Hamilton Township police agreed this week to double financial concessions they made to help offset state funding cuts — two months after they thought they had ended negotiations.
The need to reopen what the police union thought was a done deal illustrates how the state budget crisis continues to challenge area municipalities and school boards to make up for revenue shortfalls and state aid cuts. Atlantic County’s growth areas alone, including Egg Harbor and Galloway townships, are struggling to make millions of dollars in cuts.
Police and other Hamilton Township workers managed to avert layoffs this year through concessions. However, the local school district and neighboring townships did not enjoy the same good fortune.
Layoffs hang in the balance as school and Hamilton Township officials have scrambled to make up a cumulative $10 million budget gap, which includes $2.4 million in eliminated state funding. Officials will meet during the next couple of weeks to figure out how they can cut a combined $4.3 million more in spending.
Hamilton police will save $100,000 by giving up their clothing allowance during the upcoming year, bringing its total concessions to $210,000, Mainland Police Benevolent Association Local 77 President Ray Theriault said Friday.
Theriault said that he thought he had finished the Hamilton Township bargaining process Feb. 2, when police agreed to furloughs and fewer sick and vacation days. Six weeks later, the state released municipal funding numbers for next year: Hamilton would get about $803,000 less. The announcement sent public officials statewide, including Hamilton Township Administrator Ed Sasdelli, back to the drawing board.
“Because (Sasdelli) was smart enough to see this coming, he only had to come back to us for an additional $100,000,” Theriault said.
Hamilton Township employees outside the police department recently agreed to furlough days attained by municipal complex closures on five Fridays. Everyone had given up five workdays previously, but now each township worker will go without 10 days’ pay this year. Stipends to elected officials will take a proportional hit, Sasdelli said Friday.
“I’m proud of our employees and our unions for embracing the concept of shared sacrifice. If we didn’t get that $410,000, we would have had to lay off eight to 10 employees. Their selflessness prevented (that),” Sasdelli said.
Hamilton Township previously came up with $850,000 from land sales, a school tax deferral, a donation from the local utilities authority, and savings realized by four vacancies via retirements, he said.
Township Committee will decide how to make up the remaining $400,000 budget gap when it meets Monday night. The rest of the savings will not affect personnel and could include delaying equipment purchases and additional school tax payments, Sasdelli said.
Theriault, an Egg Harbor Township police sergeant, said the 86-officer Egg Harbor Township department likely will have to come up with an estimated $350,000 on top of the $800,000 or so cut earlier this year.
Police previously faced a dozen layoffs, so the union agreed to a pay freeze and ban on overtime in favor of comp time. Police Chief Blaze Catania and Captains Michael Morris and William Fair agreed to furloughs totaling more than $22,000. A pending retirement will open up a captain’s spot that will go unfilled, along with six other existing vacancies.
Theriault does not know whether EHT can avoid layoffs during the second round.
“Certainly, we could come up with it somehow if the guys are willing to go that deep,” he said Friday. “The mood here is not good, obviously.”
EHT has eliminated 32 positions in other departments through layoffs and attrition. Township Committee members also have agreed to give up two weeks of pay. Officials have another $2.6 million in cuts to go, Administrator Peter Miller said Friday.
“We have to go back next week and meet with all our unions again,” Miller said.
Theriault seemed confident that Galloway Township officials would not demand more police cuts. The township had initially announced 14 layoffs but ultimately laid off two officers. The 64 remaining police officers agreed to pay cuts as deep as 22 percent among the least-senior patrol officers. Chief Pat Moran will go without a raise as well.
Galloway has laid off a dozen workers throughout the township. Its job cuts, pay freezes, weekly municipal complex shutdowns, worker health care contributions and other reductions had the township poised to save $1.8 million, as of mid-March.
Subsequently announced state funding cuts have arguably hit the township hardest among the 67 southern New Jersey communities covered by The Press of Atlantic City.
At 24 percent, Galloway lost the greatest proportion of state funding. That amounts to $816,000, which ranked second to Vineland’s $1.5 million loss.
Township Council will introduce the budget at its meeting Tuesday night.
Galloway already has pulled its school resource officer from Absegami High School; Oakcrest High School in Mays Landing lost its officer last year, when Hamilton Township took two school officers out of the public elementary schools.
The high schools are included in the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School district, which plans to open its third high school, Cedar Creek, in Egg Harbor City this fall.
Greater Egg officials have said the district has not had the money to help pay for school resource officers, but expanded in-house security staff last year. Officials have not yet said whether 43 pending layoffs there would include the guards, and have not released other details.
Egg Harbor Township will reduce its three-officer contingent throughout the local school district to one at the high school. The K-12 school district has announced 70 layoffs, but will continue to help pay that officer’s salary. The police department will take full responsibility for paying the other two starting in July, Police Capt. William Fair said Friday.
Hamilton has a school resource officer at the Atlantic County Institution of Technology, Sasdelli said.
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