Brigantine. The State of the Union$.

The votes have been cast and the results are in. Congratulations to the Republican ticket for a successful campaign and a clean sweep, in what turned out to be a tight race. With the election over, the focus can now turn from political rhetoric to legitimate concerns. If, as the GOP’s ads claimed, the former Democratic majority has been causing all of Brigantine’s woes, we will no doubt shortly see decisive action on the many real issues facing island taxpayers.

One of the more eye-catching situations on the horizon is the concern some taxpayers have with the union contracts of a variety of city employees. The two most cited examples are the Police and Fire Departments.

Brigantine Public Union Simpson Guenther Corruption
Brigantine Firefighters with Councilman Simpson & Mayor Guenther

Before embarking on this discussion, I feel it is necessary to point out the elephant in the room. We all know that it is a touchy subject to speak critically in any way of anything involving police officers or firemen. Even to broach this topic at all is usually to invite an angry and hostile response, at times from the city employees themselves, some of whom seem to patrol the internet looking for a fight. With all that in mind, nothing here should be taken as an attack on the worth of the police or firemen. They do a job that is sometimes life-threatening and deserve our respect and admiration. They also deserve to be fairly compensated for taking on such a great responsibility.

One cannot even fairly find fault with the police and firemen themselves for seeking as high a wage as they can negotiate.

Having spent a career as a union member, I have complete empathy with any worker attempting to attain as high a standard of living as possible. Who are any of us to tell them they make too much money? They negotiated for it, it was agreed to by both parties; of course they would react negatively to any criticism or questions regarding their deal. That’s only natural.

It may be tempting to point out that some Brigantine firemen and police officers make more than some doctors, but that would be to begrudge them their due. If someone was willing to pay them a million dollars a year to be a fireman or cop, they’d be fools not to take it.

No, the fault for the position the island finds itself in does not lie with the city employees themselves. The responsibility for allowing this situation to reach such a state lands firmly in the lap of the city government.

The city can be considered in terms analogous to a corporation. In the city, the Mayor and City Council can be compared to a corporation’s CEO and Board of Directors. They are directly responsible to the shareholders, who would of course be the taxpayers. Now, obviously the corporate goal is profit while the goal of government is, or should be, the good of those they represent, so there is some difference. But not as much as one might think.

To continue the corporate analogy: As in a corporation, in which all other considerations take a back seat to pleasing the shareholders and maximizing profit, the city government has an irrefutable responsibility to negotiate the best deals for the taxpayers and minimize costs. That means paying the market value for services. Right now, Brigantine is paying much more than similar towns for equivalent services.

Purely from a taxpayer perspective, it is lunacy to pay such inflated costs for comparable services, particularly in a town where only 3,700 votes were cast in the mayoral election. The population and need for services simply does not justify such a large amount of highly paid municipal employees. Any CEO and Board of Directors of any corporation who agreed to such a lopsided deal would be out on the street faster than last week’s garbage. Not in Brigantine, though.

In Brigantine, city jobs are not just employment opportunities, they are rewards. These rewards are reserved for the friends, relatives and longtime supporters of the people who run the island. When looked at from that perspective, perhaps it makes a bit more sense that the city did not drive as hard a bargain as it could have when it came to staffing and pay scales. Smaller staffs mean less available political handouts, and more reasonable pay lessens the value of the reward.

See Report: NJ Waste and Abuse in Local Government Employee Compensation and Benefits

One can understand the sentiment with which this topic is usually greeted. These are, after all, our heroes. They helped us when we needed them. Nothing should be too good for them. A common reply to any criticism of the overstaffing or high salaries is the knee-jerk response of some sentimental residents to pile guilt on the perceived attacker. “Does it matter how much they make when they’re saving you?” The answer to that question is, of course, no. It certainly SHOULDN’T matter. As dedicated professionals, I’d expect that they would provide the same level of diligence and service whether or not they were receiving a six figure salary. In most towns, people join the Police or Fire Departments to be of service, not to get rich.

Brigantine Compared to Philadelphia Firefighters
Philadelphia Firefighters Salary

Once again, nobody can reasonably blame the city employees for seeking the best deal they can get. If they were employed in the private sector, where compensation is usually commensurate with profitability, most people would say “More power to them!” However, they are not employed in the private sector. Their pay does not derive from profits they generate. Their pay comes right out of the pocket of the taxpayers.

Just as the city employees have every right to negotiate the best deal they can get, the taxpayers also have the right to do a little comparison shopping. And the city government is unquestionably obligated to do so.

The police, firemen and all city employees deserve a fair wage for the vital services they provide. Those negotiations are the responsibility of their respective unions, and obviously, they did their job well. The responsibility of the city is to the taxpayers, and the taxpayers want to know why they are paying so much more than everyone else.


Patrick Costello is the author of the Brigantine best selling book: ‘Greenhead Politics. The Story Brigantine Taxpayers Were Never Told’.

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16 thoughts on “Brigantine. The State of the Union$.”

  1. Thank you for the interesting article but I am at a loss.
    The residences show no interest. They proved that at the elections.
    The number of full time residences are going down, what does it take to wake Brigantine’s up?
    The businesses are not coming to the island and with run away “Everything” how do the full time Brigantine residences (police, firemen, City Hall, etc) expect survive. The shoot themselves in the foot daily. Have they updated their resumes lately or do they think they are above job hunting? Think again. If there is no money coming in to support the infrastructure there is no infrastructure.
    Please tell me how this can be turned around.

    1. Seriously!
      The Money coming in to pay salaries is from CITY REAL ESTATE TAXES… FROM SECOND HOMEOWNERS, THE 70%.

      The 70%, without representation and without voting rights.

      Maybe, just maybe, the full time residents don’t want businesses, a thriving island or second homeowners.

      FYI- not all police and fire are Brigantine residents.

      It’s pretty simple, it’s analogous to paying government no bid crony contracts, like the ones that pay $200 per hammer and $75 for a box of nails.

    2. This years municipal Election results should not come as a surprise. The biggest voting block in Brigantine are the police, firemen city employees and all of their relatives. These people are not going to elect candidates that propose reducing the cost of government by eliminating unnecessary positions or scaling back inflated salaries.
      Those that are benefiting from the current situation are going to get out and vote because their livelihood depends on it. It’s not Democrat against Republican it’s them against Us.

      If Brigantine taxpayers want lower taxes they must vote regardless of political affiliation for candidates that are pledged to doing whatever it takes to cut the cost of government.

      1. A very good point, Mr. Tighue. Municipal employees and their families are unquestionably the island’s biggest voting block. If you take a look at the names on the list of all city employees, you see a lot of families with more than one member on the payroll. With a list so long, it’s impossible to imagine that each employee doesn’t have a few family members and friends who will vote for whoever is handing out the big bucks. Tactically or not, these jobs seem to handed out to the most influential and well-known Brigantine families, who happen to have influence with most long-time residents. What results is a web of residents all voting in the interest of making sure those city jobs keep the municipal trough full. It is a built-in base for the entrenched government, and the main reason the GOP won.

        You are 100% correct in stating that the election barely follows party lines.

  2. Finally a non personal attack article to read. I would have liked to have seen this additional support of our employees, firemen and police before the election. Nevertheless, everyone knows, everyone has stated (before this article) adjustments need to be made for the entire budget.

    The first thing to do is for everyone to respect each other (The Golden Rule). This week, after talking to many residents, I see this is starting to happen again. I detect good positive governing in the upcoming year. Let’s keep focused on doing the work for 2015 and beyond.

    Every resident has something to offer. Brigantine is a great place to live, and I look forward to participating in this process. Hope to see you at the meetings.

      1. It is not for me to decide. That is why we have elections, elected officials, city manager and Dept. heads who are Professionals in their fields. Anyone obtaining the agendas and attending the city council meetings will see the work you are requesting to know. Agree or disagree, just be a part of the process.

        Once heard the saying: If you are not part of the Solution, you are part of the Problem.

  3. Hopefully someone can inform us taxpayers what Guenther has to gain by allowing, or at the least, not ,pushing back against, this outrageous excess of pay and staffing. Mayor, could I have a concise
    response from you on this? I am thinking there must be a reason that doesn’t involve your self interests and I am not trying to be confrontational, just would appreciate an explanation and some transparency.

    Frustrated taxpayer I am.

    Bob Van Meter

  4. 2010 survey shows Brigantine salaries in line with others. 2010 N.J. police salaries rank highest in nation with median pay of $90,672. Chris Megerian/Statehouse Bureau By Chris Megerian/Statehouse Bureau

    A Star-Ledger analysis shows the average municipal cop in New Jersey is paid 80 percent more than the average resident, and three of 10 made at least $100,000 last year. In addition, police tend to be paid the best in small towns with little crime.

    Among the other findings:

    • The median salary for the state’s 20,525 municipal officers was $90,672 last year, meaning half earned more and half earned less.

    • A total of 6,198 municipal officers made at least $100,000 last year. Ninety-nine of 466 towns that pay police have six-figure median salaries. Most are in North Jersey, primarily Bergen County.

    • Suburban cops are paid the best while city officers generally make less and rural cops make the least.

    “Any police officer that says they’re not making enough money needs to re-examine themselves,” said Saddle Brook Township Police Chief Robert Kugler. In that Bergen County town, 30 of 31 officers made six figures last year,

    In Bergen County, 59 of 68 towns have median police salaries above $100,000. The highest median pay in the state was $134,132 in Rochelle Park,

    Last year, Closter police earned a total of $157,190 in overtime, Chief David Berrian said, about $7,859 per officer. This year they’ve capped overtime at $125,000, but Berrian expects the department to hit that limit Oct. 1.

    Edison, where 164 of 186 officers made six figures last year, paid out $790,946.62 in overtime, about $4,252 per officer, local union President Keith Hahn said. Overtime costs are up 9.9 percent from last year because the town has lost officers, Hahn said.


    Police salaries stack up well when compared with other professions. The average municipal police salary last year was $89,630, compared to the state’s average per capita income of $50,313.

    Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show municipal police make more than civil engineers ($87,090), architects ($85,050) and rank-and-file firefighters ($71,810). They make less than dentists ($154,130), veterinarians ($117,170) and real estate brokers ($96,240).
    Federal data on 2009 wages also show New Jersey officers are the best paid in the country — the median salary for municipal and sheriff patrol officers is $80,120. (That’s lower than The Star-Ledger’s calculation for median salary, which includes superior officers.)

    New Jersey is rivaled only by California at $78,460, according to the federal statistics. Illinois trails in third with $69,900. New York is ninth at $60,620, Connecticut 10th at $60,490, and Pennsylvania 19th at $54,140.

    Rank County Median Police Pay
    1 Bergen $109,700
    2 Middlesex $97,022
    3 Ocean $95,946
    4 Morris $95,164
    5 Monmouth $95,016
    6 Somerset $94,486
    7 Mercer $93,246
    8 Passaic $92,756
    9 Essex $90,160
    10 Hudson $90,082
    11 Union $88,150
    12 Sussex $86,690
    13 Cape May $84,572
    14 Atlantic $83,440
    15 Hunterdon $81,864
    16 Warren $80,420
    17 Burlington $80,011
    18 Camden $79,686
    19 Gloucester $78,872
    20 Cumberland $72,100
    21 Salem $68,792

    But data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show police here are paid better in comparison with other professions than they are elsewhere in the country.

    The average rank-and-file cop nationwide makes 27 percent more than the average resident. In New Jersey, the average rank-and-file cop makes 55.3 percent more.

    1. I live full time in a town with 9,000 residents, hi-rise apartments, hi-rise office buildings, 1 interstate highway, 4 intrastate highways, and a football stadium that hits capacity 16 times a year at 85,000 people. Our fire department is

      Why oh why does Brigantine even need a paid department????? At the salaries everyone else makes, it should be mandatory they staff the fire department as part of their job description!!!

      1. Very well-stated, Veronica. As opposed your town, Brigantine had only 3700 people vote in the mayoral election. It has no hi-rises (unless you include the new wave of McMansions invading the island), no highways, and no 85,000 seat arena. The populated area is approximately 2 miles. Now, while your town seemingly makes due with dedicated, volunteer firemen(who, if we’re calling PAID firemen heroes, what should we call the men who do the same job for free?), Brigantine struggles by with over 36 employees making close to or well over 100K. And that’s just the FD. I tried to add up all the city wages listed and my calculator couldn’t even handle it.

  5. Long Time Part Timer

    Used to be that Government jobs typically paid less than private sector but had great benefits and pensions and you could count on employment till early retirement even if your performance was mediocre at best.

    How did Government salaries get better than the private sector? How did a small island get unionized public work forces? How dId they come up with these quantities of full time employees? How do the same cast of characters keep their jobs? It’s a circle of people that feed themselves well- that’s my take from the latest election. I feel sorry for those that made the effort to change the status quo and make the island better.



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