Wednesday, January 27, 2010

High Salaries May Hinder Budget Savings

Under a salary and wage ordinance passed last month, a deputy fire chief could possibly earn more than each of a dozen city cabinet members.

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.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Police and Fire and Schools.

That's the be all and end all of the budget situation in Plainfield and most every other homeowner-property tax supported town across the country. Unless someone outside of the city comes up with a way to cut back those expenditures by 10 - 20% taxes will go up and keep going up. Period.

Talking about getting rid of the planning department for the sake of the budget is just silly talk. It's a drop in the bucket (please, no comments about every drop counts - that's just one banality chasing another).

Let's go back six months to the campaigns for mayor and assemblyman. Many called Jerry Green "Boss", but didn't drive home the implications. Green, boss of the town by way of his Democratic Party chairmanship in a one-party town, controls who gets nominated for the Regular Dems and who gets appointed for some discretionary positions in city government. Thus, he has great influence over how the city the city budget is formed. During the recent election he was supported by several public safety unions. He also has two sons: one is a Plainfield fireman, the other a Union County police officer. Both have seniority, generous salaries and secure benefits. Reopening the police and fire contracts for meaningful givebacks will be tough enough, but does anyone think for one minute that Green will jeopardize his family's security by allowing pay or benefits reduction?

It will take a Cristie ex machina to refloat the Plainfield et al budget boats. Even though we're very close to being under water, I'm not holding my breath.

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It isn't the salaries that bother me, it is the return on the salaries that are in doubt.

We pay corporation counsel around $150K, and he doesn't know you need council advise and consent to appoint an acting CFO?

I have no problem with Bibi Taylor's salary - I think she is smart and will eventually give Plainfield a good ROI by creating a streamlined government.

Martin Hellwig's salary is way under, and if a raise came his way, that wouldn't bother me. He is worth his money.

Now, let's ask ourselves, what has other departments done for us lately? Take our money for nothing is my answer.

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The burden is going to be borne by the beleagured taxpayers of this community. How long can we continue? Those of us who are working are not getting such grandiose raises. There was no COLA for retirees this year. It seems futile to discuss the situation. It will take courage to force a change and I don't see it happening.

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it true that confidential aid (Barbara James)make $82,067 to $113,418 per year.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Bernice said...

The confidential aide specified on the list was for Community Development, not aide to the mayor. It is the person who works on the Community Development Block Grants.
The community aides hired in 2006, one for the mayor and one for the city administrator, were not on the list.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beleagured tax payers my butt. Who voted them in? The beleagured tax payers. We get exactly what we vote - or not vote - for.

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can NOT complain about a person accepting a high salary, we all would do it if offered !! You can blame those that approve such high salaries, the City Council when they approve the Ordinance [Ouch, you all thought is was the Mayor's fault]

10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the mayor had the ability to choose the right people for the job, we wouldn't have to worry about raising salaries. There are people in Plainfield, well qualified, who would do the jobs required within the salary band. But, the mayor refuses to even consider these people because of her political bend. So, we must reach outside our borders to get people. (Ouch, it is the mayor's fault)

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also keep in mind that when you complain about high salaries, these salaries are based on a 35 hour work week - not 40 - like a normal job.

And lets not forget about 15 sick days a year and a minimum of 12vacation days for new hires and for those that have been here for awhile, an additional 3 days for every 5 years of employment. And then some get supervisordays.

Add on full health benefits and you have a job that would make anyone want to be in public service in todays job market.

Forget the college, just have someone on the inside get you a City job and you can be set for life.

7:05 PM  

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