I applaud Mayor Glatt's Op Ed piece. What the Finance Committee, specifically Messers Madden, Getzendanner and Bomgaars has done is create a budget that will increase our property taxes while making our Community less safe. It is a budget that will build in a process whereby we will make the community less and less safe each ensuing year. Specifically, their budget does the following:
1. It has no money to replace the 2 current vacancies in the Police Department. Police Officer head count will be reduced from the current number of 48 to 46.
2. It changes the replacement schedule for police vehicles from 3 years to 6 years, which simply is unmanageable.
3. It reduces the overtime budget from last year by $30,000 for each department. We currently are over last year's overtime budgets and we exceeded last year's budget. We always do. It is not rational to assume you can eliminate police officers and reduce overtime. The reason the PD and FD have high OT numbers is because they have reduced staffing in the past and are now at minimal levels.
4. The reduced OT numbers will mean that the FD will not be able to fight fires in excess of 51 shifts until personnel are recalled. This means we in effect are becoming a quasi -Volunteer FD.
5. The Council rejected a proposal from the PBA that involved givebacks of approximately $45,000 a year over the next 3 years in return for saving these two positions.
The math doesn't work. The increase OT couple with the PBA givebacks exceeds the salary of two new police officers. This vote will actually cost the taxpayers of Summit more money and make it less safe at a critical time. The Morris Avenue bridge will be replaced next year and it will likely take a year. There simply will not be police personnel available for the extra duty that might be required. If I lived on Woodland, Passiac, Summit Avenues or Kent Place Boulevard, I would be very concerned.
There is an even more frightening aspect of Council's actions. We will not be able to meet the reduced OT budgets. This means that we will have to reallocate money in November, the only time we are permitted to do so. Since this is a bare bones budget and most of it will have been expended by then, our only realistic option is to "borrow" against next year's budget. So, you will be reducing next year's OT budget further despite the fact you missed last year's. This is likely to result in further cuts to Police and Fire next year when the cycle will repeat itself. This commonly is referred to as a "death spiral." Once you start, you cannot get out and if we go from a 4.0% Cap to a 2.5% Cap, it will further aggravate an already unworkable situation. We will be on a path of reducing Fire and Police and making our City less and less safe despite ever new and challenging demands. This is not fear mongering. It is reality.
If you are as concerned as I and the Mayor are, I suggest you make those concerns known before the damage is done. Phone, email, write. or better yet,attend the June 1st Council Meeting and be heard.
Councilman Michael J. Vernotico is Chairman of the Public Safety Committee in Summit, New Jersey.
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