Summit Council Adopts $45,933,511.17 Operating Budget for 2010—Police Department Reductions Dominate Hearing

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Summit Mayor Jordan Glatt presents the Department of Community Services Meritorious Award to Public Works Superintendent Paul Cascais as Community Services Director Beth Kinney looks on.
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SUMMIT, NJ - Reductions in the Summit Police Department budget, which will result in not replacing two officers and decreasing the size of the department from 48 to 46 officers, were again at the center of Tuesday's public hearing on the city's 2010 spending plan.

The budget, as adopted, will result in a property tax for municipal purposes on the average home, assessed at $410,000, of $3,600, up from $3,514 last year.

Overall, the average Summit homeowner will be paying property taxes totaling $15,330, including county taxes, the county open space assessment, school taxes and school debt service.

Council Finance Chairman Richard J. Madden said the municipal purposes budget is up about 1.8%, and it accounts for the fact that state aid was reduced by $721,000 this year.

He noted union pay increases amounted to about 3.8% this year and non-union employees' salaries will increase 1.5% to make up for the fact that those employees are now paying 1.5% of their health care costs.

There will be no layoffs, he added, but employees who leave through attrition will not be replaced.

Finance Committee member Thomas Getzendanner said the spending plan showed "management accountability to the taxpayers" and no department would escape the need for the city to shrink its staff below the 200 people employed by Summit last year

By making the police reductions, however, according to Bill Ryan of 18 Mount Vernon Avenue, the council was in effect "taking away some of my freedom in case my house is robbed."

Resident Annette Dwyer called the reductions "cutting into the marrow" at a time when there were more sexual assaults, drug abuse and violence in the city.

"The Police Department and the Fire Department did not cause this economic meltdown and they should not be punished for it," she said.

Resident Michael Gumport, however, noted police salary and wages were up 4.1% this year and fire department salary and wages increased 6.5%, while the salaries of most residents had not increased. He also said the city has greatly increased the size of its police force in the last 50 years while the population served by that force has decreased.

Another resident, who has lived in Summit for 32 years, noted Atlantic City, which faces a $5 million debt, laid off 18 police officers.

He said the council should "cure the illness rather than the symptoms" and called Summit's city government too expensive, adding that 30% of the police department is made up of "chiefs" who consume 38% of the police budget.

Summit Policeman's Benevolent Association delegate and city resident, Michael Freeman, however, accused Councilman Madden, in newspaper articles, of giving "false facts" by inflating medical benefits paid to officers and adding fees paid to the city for extra duty work performed by officers to come up with an estimated salary of $162,000 per year for each officer.

Councilman Madden replied his numbers were taken from documents supplied by the Police Department itself and he arrived at an annual figure of about $160,000 by including a base of $105,000, plus overtime, clothing allowance and health care costs. Over 25 years, he added, this would amount to $8 million.

"I am not saying whether 46 or 48 officers is the proper level," he added. "If, at the end of the year, we negotiate with the PBA and are able to restore the officers, I will be happy to go along with that."

Council Public Safety Chairman Michael J. Vernotico replied that concessions made by the PBA in negotiations with the city and other police savings would more than make up for the loss of the two officers. Therefore, there was no reason for the reductions other than to arrive at a lower budget figure.

"Safety should be job one," he added.

Councilwoman Nuris Portuondo said, however, that all departments had been made to suffer due to the budget cuts and the police department had to look at more creative ways to save in other areas so it would not have to cut the two officers.

Police Chief Robert Lucid said that since 1960, the year referred to by Mr. Gumport in his remarks, police calls were up 150%. The amount of officers had decreased from 52 to 48 in those years and had remained at that level. His officers were able to respond effectively only because they are extremely dedicated, he added.

"However," he noted, "we cannot provide the service residents expect without sufficient staffing levels."

He also said the 2010 budget for vehicle replacement would only enable him to replace two vehicles instead of three and his budget for overtime could not meet the projected $180,000 cost this year.

Mayor Jordan Glatt said he could not support a budget which put the city in jeopardy. He said overtime was budgeted at $140,000 last year and wound up costing $180,000 and he believed the necessity of making emergency appropriations later in the year to pay for additional overtime would continue this year and in future years. He then left the podium, saying he would not remain as the budget was voted upon.

"We often have to make a choice between what we want and what we need," said Councilman Stephen P. Murphy, "and police and fire protection are at the core of what we need."

Councilman Murphy joined Councilman Vernotico in casting the only two votes against adoption of the budget.

The council also adopted an ordinance zoning the former Infiniti dealership property on Franklin place for multi-family housing in a "transit-oriented development zone" because of its proximity to the Summit train station, with minor modifications as suggested by the Planning Board.

In addition, ordinances were adopted setting a 1.5-hour limit and parking fees for the Bank Street parking lot and allowing for acceptance of credit cards in long-term parking areas.

Also, the Mayor presented Public Works Superintendent Paul Cascais with the Department of Community Services Meritorious Award for saving the city about $400,000 over the past three years by outsourcing a number of services, auctioning excess vehicles and entering into shared services agreements with other communities.

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