Brigantine Firefighter: $140,000 Salary + Benefits + Pension

To the editor:

In Brigantine, new focus needs to be placed on reducing the budget in areas of employee compensation. A 6.2-cent increase, as strongly supported by the city manager, is not acceptable, especially when it forwards debt to future years without really knowing the impact of near future years (2014 and 2015).

The other ‘scenarios’ presented were a 2.2-cent increase and a 2.1-cent increase. All of those budget proposals fell short of a positive fiscal position for the City of Brigantine, and in turn for the residents and taxpayers of Brigantine.

Our manager also stated that $458K in health benefit payments were not even in the budget and would be forwarded to 2014. So in 2014, we will have to pay 2014 health insurance costs plus an additional $458K brought forward from 2013. A move like that, coupled with the bond floated last year, will soon have Brigantine taxpayers looking at a deficit clock just like our federal government. Brigantine can be better than that, but only by making those hard choices now. Franklin Township took a hard, honest look at their budget and actually lowered real estate taxes.

In looking at the posting of salaries, we find excess in many areas. A town the size of Brigantine does not warrant the current pay rates posted in the Oct. 26, 2012 Beachcomber.

That salary list shows a Director of Recreation at $80K and a Deputy Director at $75K. One of those positions should be eliminated. The other should be discounted.

This same scenario exists in many departments. The township manager has an assistant manager at the pay rate of $80K. This position is not warranted, and if the workload of that department demands additional hours, those hours must be filled with position titles demanding a much lower rate of pay.

This same situation occurs throughout the Brigantine public employee ranks. There are eight police dispatchers (pay averaging $60K plus benefits and pensions) plus part-time hourly-rate dispatchers as well. Perhaps only having part-time dispatchers is an answer to some savings, because you do not have to pay the benefit package and that high pay rate. Central county dispatching should also be considered.

I understand much of the salary problems were caused by the former manager’s failures to effectively handle negotiations. Now, as a result of past practice, the hard decisions must be made and enacted for the good of all taxpayers.

It is unfortunate, but layoffs are necessary. Look at the country. Do Brigantine city employees believe that we are in a world separate from the fiscal woes of our times? Do they not understand that many of our citizens are currently unemployed due to the financial problems of our cities, states and country? Businesses have laid off workers in order to remain fiscally sound.

It is the council’s job to protect the fiscal health of the City of Brigantine in addition to the other protections and responsibilities of council. If taxes are raised, the City of Brigantine is causing the taxpayers undue hardship by continuing failures in financial responsibility. The City of Brigantine will be undermining your personal budget by over-taxing because the hard decisions to move forward with pay reductions and/or layoffs were not made.

Cutting the budget through attrition is not enough. That ship sank a while ago. Attrition is a given.

‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’ by borrowing into future years is only delaying the inevitable. You can’t spend what you don’t have.

The stress the residents have recently suffered because of Sandy is more than enough. Stress caused by city budgeting failures on its citizenry is unnecessary. The storm damage is already a financial burden on every homeowner that was hit.

The insurance companies do not cover the costs that are involved with bringing properties back from damaged states. Their insurance checks meant to cover repairs are reduced significantly by large deductibles, huge depreciations and exclusions of costly elements that are simply not covered in payments received. That means thousands of dollars that those people, your neighbors, must somehow find. And the city now wants to increase their taxes.

I understand that the employees believe that the needed actions are not fair. Is it any less fair to impact the taxpayers again and again? Is it fair to impact those homeowners already beat down by the ravages of Hurricane Sandy?

The fact that the ‘preliminary’ budget presentation did not include cuts to the 170 Brigantine employees that have reaped generous benefits during the ‘good’ times, in favor of over-taxing and burdening thousands of taxpayers, is irresponsible and a failure to look at the big picture. It is nice to be popular with the employees, but not at the expense of those that you have been elected or hired to serve.

Some cuts to summer staffing were stated in the pre-budget presentation by the manager, but the real cuts must come from lines that have salary and benefit ties. The remaining 70 percent of the taxpayers (the non-resident portion) pay the largest part of the taxes and use a minimal part of the services. We find the proposal to cut summer services an insult to those using very little out of the bloated budget. Our council and managers have to be smarter than that. They must make smart and difficult cuts to protect the city as a whole.

Please look at the fire department organizational chart. The chief is paid $140K. Four fire squads, each with a captain paid $124K-$134K each, two lieutenant positions being paid between $106K and $113K and four to five firefighters being paid salaries in the $90K range. Really!

We do support the continuing chief positions in all three areas of concern, but do not support the salaries attached to those positions. Chiefs in other towns of greater populations and responsibilities are not being paid at those rates. For example, Cherry Hill, a metropolis with a daytime population of 250,000 (as opposed to the 9,500 population in Brigantine) and large malls, major shopping, major highways cutting through its borders and many other factors creating significantly more responsibility, pays their chief $120K, a very nice stipend in these hard times.

And so, I propose that Brigantine chiefs’ salaries and all employee salaries be based on that type of information and paid at significantly lower salaries. And hear me – it is not just the fire department – the salaries attached to all of the positions in the town are out of line with other South Jersey public and private sectors.

The council was provided with demographic comparable for several other towns during the March 6 meeting. Those comparisons show that Brigantine does not equate with towns doing much more with much less.

You can make your own comparisons. Google “Wikipedia demographics (insert town name)” and press enter. Comparisons show that it is not only possible but necessary to make the needed cuts now.

Many people that lived in Brigantine have already been forced from their homes because of higher taxes caused by irresponsible actions of previous managements.

By the way, why does Brigantine own a golf course (in need of much capital repair)? Sell that, too! A private-sector owner will be able to create a tourism generating company and it will pay taxes!

Don’t delay the inevitable any longer.

John and Bonnie Nikituk

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