High Salaries May Hinder Budget Savings
The ordinance set retroactive wage ranges for members of the Fire Officers Association, which were tied to increases received by the Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association. For 2009, the settlement included a range of $79,374 to $123,005 for a deputy fire chief. A battalion chief’s wage range for 2009 became $74,103 to $114,831.
By contrast, salary band information obtained by Plaintalker show a 2010 range of $82,067 to $113,418 for non-union titles including city clerk, chief engineer, chief financial officer, confidential aide (Community Development), health officer, municipal engineer, personnel director and public works superintendent. A salary band of $85,048 to $117,342 applies to titles including deputy city administrator, two directors (Public Works & Urban Development and Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services) and municipal court judge.
The discrepancy points up a trend that could make it harder for the city to trim salaries to reduce the budget.
At the end of 2009, departing City Administrator Marc Dashield said that contracts for all but one city bargaining unit were settled, setting the stage for negotiations on future give-backs across the board. But layoffs looming next month will hit only members of the Plainfield Municipal Employees Union, described by union President Cynthia Smith as the lowest-ranking bargaining unit. Smith has asked repeatedly at public meetings for public safety unions and others to feel the budget crunch as well.
The City Council’s mantra on finalizing the budget for the fiscal year that began last July 1 is that all must “share the pain,” but no amendments have yet been announced.
Several of the cabinet members are already taking pay that is less than that of subordinates, a pattern set early on in Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs’s first four-year term. She won a second term which began Jan. 1. But besides the list above, the City Council recently passed an ordinance setting a salary band of $97,163 to $131,310 for the title of police director, which was created in 2008 after the City Council agreed to abolish the title of police chief. Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig also holds the police director title, but draws only one salary. The range for director of Public Affairs & Safety for 2010 is $92,793 to $134,290.
The city is on the verge of hiring someone for another title not reflected on the non-union salary band list obtained through an Open Public Records Act request. That is “Manager I of Information Processing” at a range of $70,000 to $110,000.
Perhaps the most striking figure on the list is the 2010 range for corporation counsel, $121,500 to $172,659. According to the state web site, the governor of New Jersey receives a salary of $157,000, with a possible maximum of $175,000.
With the current hard times at all levels of government, the state is promising to be much less generous to cities and needy school districts than in the past. A look at the Plainfield school district’s salaries also reveals many over the $100,000 mark. If Trenton tells Plainfield to put the salary genie back in the bottle, can it be done? The workforce on both city and school sides tends to be mature, with people at the top of their rank. Talk of demotions in the top police ranks set off a union protest this month.
Attrition and new hires over time may be the cure, but Trenton may not want to wait on a slow remedy. The governing body hopes to wrap up the budget process next month. It remains to be seen what strong fiscal medicine can be administered with barely a quarter left in the spending cycle.