WEST ORANGE, NJ - With the township budget expected to include the layoffs of as many as 8 police officers and 16 firefighters, several people addressed the West Orange Township Council at its meeting on Tuesday night about the issue and the general consensus of those who chose to speak was that efforts to balance the budget must not include layoffs of critical public safety personnel. More than a dozen public safety workers from West Orange and the surrounded area attended the meeting in support of the police and firemen.
The officers facing demotions or layoffs “worked too hard to have their ranks destroyed,” said Robert Martin. “The need for supervisors cannot be overstated as they ensure oversight and guard against corruption. As of March, 2011, the township will have 103 officers. These layoffs are not necessary.”
Sixteen-year resident Ed Derosa said, ”It takes training, training the taxpayers paid for. We’re a township cut in half by Route 280. There are numerous off-ramps. Criminals are not stupid. West Orange residents need public safety.”
Derosa suggested alternatives to the layoffs like reducing operating hours of the public library, charging fees to private businesses making use of emergency services, and monitoring heat use in public buildings. “You need to find another way to balance the budget. Public safety comes first.”
Council President Sal M. Anderton explained that the suggestions made would be considered but emphasized that the council approves the entire budget, not individual items like layoffs, and that contract negotiations are not part of the council’s role. “We approve the contract, but are not involved in the negotiations.”
Mayor Robert Parisi spoke at length about the budgetary process and to the concerns of those present, expressing his great respect for what public service workers do, and explaining that his work as councilman, council president and civic leader has been about public service and respect for serving the public, but added, “we can’t separate the economics of police work and the respect. That has made this all the more challenging. The problem is the numbers are simply to the point where eloquent words won’t give us a balanced budget.”
The mayor addressed some of the alternatives to layoffs voiced at the meeting, saying, “We’re doing all [of] that. We [have gotten] very fiscally responsible in the last six months, but it’s still not enough.”
The base salary for a West Orange police officer is now $96,000 per year. “They’ve done very well, and I respect them for it,” Parisi said. “But they’re simply outpacing our ability to pay.” The mayor added that, according to their contract, retired township police officers receive sixty percent salary for life and health insurance for life. “They should be proud of their accomplishments, but they’re not free to the taxpayers.” The mayor added that, in three years, the amount of money the township will be spending on retired public employee pensions and benefits will exceed salary costs.