On behalf of the members of Summit PBA Local #55, I would like to thank Mayor Glatt and Summit Common Council members for the effort that you have put into listening to all the opinions that have been expressed in the budget workshops. These are difficult decisions that need to be made and the approach that you have taken is suggestive of your willingness to be responsible.
Most of the speakers in the workshops expressed an affinity for this City and its agencies. There was a suggestion that some of the comments were from "special interests", but I disagree with that. The most common theme was unity. That theme was summed up by Mayor Glatt with his sentiment that we are, indeed, in this together and we will emerge from these economic woes.
I'm sure it's not lost on any of you, that neither the department heads nor the City employees pointed elsewhere, when suggesting cuts. I was most impressed by Regan Burkholder's study that confirmed what all of our department heads presented. The City agencies have consistently done more with less. The tax rate in Summit is comparatively low, but our property values are relatively high. That is a result of the schools, safety and services that each resident of the City has become accustomed.
As a taxpayer, I certainly wouldn't enjoy paying more in property taxes, but I accept that we are still getting a bargain even with the unexpected increase caused by the Governor's decision to cut our state aid.
In anticipation of working with the City during the next negotiations process, I researched my notes from meetings dating back to 1999. I was reminded that the City had a problem with the unfunded liability of compensatory time. The PBA agreed to limit our accumulated hours over time, resulting in no large cash payouts at retirement. Later, the City was interested in reducing salary and pension obligations related to longevity payments. The PBA agreed to curtail the longevity program for new hires and accept a deferred compensation plan instead. When the City was originally concerned with escalating costs associated with the State Health Benefits "Traditional Plan", the PBA led all other groups in encouraging members to switch from that plan and forcing new members to opt for a less expensive HMO for first three years of employment. These items are proof that in Summit, the collective bargaining process works, contrary to the Governor's assertion.
All of the problems with NJ labor unions that are currently being railed against in the media are addressed on our Fact vs. Fiction page at www.summitpba.com.
Also in my notes from 2003, I scratched out a proposal for us to share in the City's windfall produced by the "pension holiday" that allowed for no pension payments for 2 years, while we continued to make our 8.5% contribution. Stuart Brown was the City Administrator at that time, and he flatly refused. He assured us that the savings realized by the City would be earmarked for property tax relief and as such would be placed in a reserve fund dedicated for that purpose. He was well aware of temptation to put that into the general fund, but he contended that would be fiscally irresponsible.
I bring up this conversation in response to Nuris Portuondo's request to hear from people regarding the use of surplus funds to minimize the tax burden. I don't want to be flippant, but if we are waiting for a rainy day, look around - the flood waters are rising steadily. It is time to tap into the reserve funds.
The amount that is used to offset a large tax increase is the truly tough decision for you to make. The labor unions in Summit have all agreed to make considerable concessions to our existing contracts.
In order to alleviate some of the burden that a tax increase would place on Summit residents, the members Summit PBA Local #55 and FMBA Local #54 have conflated our amendments to give back more than $100,000 in salary and benefits. We have also offered to join the Teamsters and rest of the City's non-union employees in accepting a salary freeze. While finding creative solutions has always been our goal in collective bargaining, this solution is unprecedented. We have never been forced to amend a contract under threat of layoffs before now.
While we await your decision to accept our proposal, I would like to remind the esteemed council members, that the Summit Police Department is one of a handful of Accredited agencies in the state of NJ. The Summit Fire Department is soon to be only the second NJ fire department to receive accreditation. This status is achieved by intense scrutiny of independent experts in the field of public safety. Manpower allocation was one of the criteria examined in the accreditation process and determined to be adequate in the police department prior to the loss of two officers in the past year. Some members of Common Council are now considering additional cuts in manpower by laying off additional officers and firefighters, contrary to the recommendations of experts.
I am confident that you will come together at the Common Council meeting on May 18th to decide the best course of action that will maintain all that the citizens have come to expect from Summit. It is unfair to ask any resident what everyone will be "comfortable" sacrificing, when the choices include essential services and public safety. I can't say anything that hasn't already been said about the lack of fat to be trimmed, by way of personnel. To quote Chief Lucid, any reduction of our current force would leave the police department at an inadequate level. Moreover, even if the 4% tax levy cap remains unchanged, reducing the staff during this economic downturn will ensure that those positions will be permanently lost even after the recovery is complete. The budget can't be expanded to fix the mistake of panic cuts.
I can promise that as a representative of Summit PBA, we will continue to work with the City to provide professional police services through our future collective bargaining sessions. We are all in this together and a mutually agreeable solution to this problem will eventually be found. If you would like to contact me regarding this or any other matter, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Freeman is the NJSPBA Delegate #55