In response to a quickly-passed ordinance to increase the salary range for public employees, some residents of Jefferson Township have created a petition for the Council to rescind this ordinance and put it up for vote in the 2018 election.
The ordinance, first introduced at the December 6 Town Council meeting, was met with some hostility by one of the Town Council members. Councilman Robert Birmingham took issue with the last minute edits to the ordinance. However, Township Attorney Lawrence Cohen assured him that there had been no substantive changes to the Ordinance and that he had simply moved language from the beginning of the Ordinance to the end. He further emphasized for public record that these salary range increases are to the ranges, not to the salaries themselves, and can’t be used as a bargaining tool by public employees.
After the ordinance passed the first vote, it was later met with public hostility at the next meeting on December 20, where a vote to ratify the ordinance would take place. The first of the concerned residents, Horace Chamberlain, believed that the salary range increase seemed particularly and unnecessarily high for the heads of departments. He asked why this salary range increase was occurring in the first place and how these increases were determined.
According to Town Administrator James Leach, the increases followed a formula that raised the maximum of every position by 10 percent of the highest salary for any employee in that position with the exception of health inspectors, who have their salary ranges regulated by different state laws. The salary range increases were recommended by the Administration after an audit suggested that they should be raised to meet state standards.
Any other increases that surpass the 10 percent increase were explained by Leach. The chief of police’s maximum increased drastically because state law requires that the chief of police’s salary maximum is five percent higher than the employee directly beneath the chief. Since the deputy chief of police position no longer exists, there was a different position beneath the chief that required a larger increase.
The large increase in the tax assessor’s maximum was caused by a termination settlement, which is combined with the tax assessor’s salary. There was an issue with comp time built up over the years, and it was settled that this comp time would compensated for in this termination agreement. Once the settlement is done being paid off in two years, the salary range can be readjusted without this settlement forcing it to increase.
The heads of certain departments saw increases because the law requires that they get the same increases as other employees of their department. However, Leach emphasized how all of these increases are to the range and not to the actual salaries. No public employee received a raise except for a step process.
A lifelong resident of the town, Donna Vander Ploeg, took issue with this ordinance for its seemingly unreasonable increases for some positions. Despite these explanations, she was still concerned that the ordinance was too rushed for any of the residents of the town to have any say in how their tax dollars were being spent. While she does not want to deny public employees from getting raises, she believes the residents should have more time to look at the salary range increases, ask questions, and collectively vote on it.
“These salary ranges are more procedural than anything else,” Cohen said in defense of the ordinance. “State law requires an adjustment each year. If the town doesn’t do this, we may get punished or lose state aid.”
Leach said, “The ordinance is retroactive, covering 2017, because it needs to cover the whole year in order to meet the state audit. We need to pass it before the new year in order for this to happen.”
After the ordinance was thoroughly discussed, it passed 3-1 with Birmingham voting no and Councilman H. Ronald Smith absent. However, Vander Ploeg won’t stop there to fight it. According to a town ordinance, in order to rescind the salary increase, five percent of registered voters (over 800 signatures) must sign a petition against it. Even if it is acceptable, Vander Ploeg wants to ensure that the public has more time to review this ordinance.
Concerned residents can sign the petition at 67 East Shore Road, Lake Hopatcong on Friday, December 29th from 3:30 to 5 p.m. or at the former PNC Bank parking lot on Berkshire Valley Road in Oak Ridge on Saturday, December 30th from 9 to 9:30 a.m. For more information about the petition, you can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.