If Willie Jacovini has an issue with his city’s services, he doesn’t go to a public meeting to complain. He picks up the telephone and calls the official in charge.
“If you have a problem, you ask and you get an answer right away,” said Jacovini, a longtime resident of Margate.
Jacovini is not unique. Most Margate residents have direct access to public officials, including their personal cellphone numbers and email addresses.
But that level of high-quality, small-town service does not come cheap. Data show Margate’s public officials make more money than their counterparts in surrounding towns, including in Ventnor and Linwood.
Margate’s fire and police chiefs make about $20,000 more than those in nearby cities of about the same size.
Margate’s top five highest-salaried employees, in descending order, include longtime City Clerk and Tax Collector Thomas Hiltner, who makes $153,628 annually after 28 years of service to the city; police Chief David Wolfson, who makes a salary of $153,354 after 30 years of city employment; fire Chief Tony Tabasso, who makes $153,131 after 36 years with Margate; Public Works Superintendent Frank Ricciotti, who makes $149,733 after 41 years with the city; and Systems Analyst Fred Verna, who makes $140,251 after 15 years.
Margate’s mayor and two commissioners make an annual salary of $20,000 and $25,295, respectively, while surrounding cities’ commission and council members make $10,000 or less.
Hearing the salaries of the city’s employees, Jacovini said without hesitation, “If you ask me, you can’t put a price tag on experience and expertise, and that’s what Margate has. There’s no comparison.”
Hiltner, who also is the city’s purchasing agent and personnel manager, said the main reason for the higher-than-average salaries, aside from employee longevity, is due to Margate residents’ high demands.
“Margate is the kind of town where people want their trash picked up at the exact same time every week, they want an ambulance at the door within minutes of the call,” Hiltner said.
A hot topic among New Jersey municipalities has been the cost-saving benefits of merging services with nearby cities. Hiltner said many Margate residents have said they don’t want to share certain services, regardless of the potential savings.
“Here’s the bottom line,” he said. “Is there potential there to save a lot of money? Yes. And is it doable? Yes. But until some state politician forces city mergers, any substantial consolidation isn’t going to happen.”
Jacovini backed this up. “I don’t want to give up what we have,” he said. “That may seem a little selfish, but I think it’s worth the money.”
“Like anything, you pay for quality,” said Stacy Marchel, a city native who moved away for a few years and has since returned to raise her children. “That’s why we live in Margate.”
Longport Mayor Nick Russo has heard the same about his borough.
“We certainly see the value of it,” Russo said of shared services. “Is it worth it to have 13 men policing a mile-and-a-half? But if you ask the people, they like that type of individual small-town service, and they are willing to pay for it. If you take out the emotion and the human factor, sharing makes sense.”
In Longport, police Chief Vincent Pacentrilli has the borough’s highest salary at $126,079, followed by four police officials with salaries ranging from $113,000 to $103,000.
There have been suggestions to share services among the Downbeach towns of Ventnor, Margate and Longport, but they have run up against reluctance to make mergers happen.
James E. Pacanowski II, president of the Ventnor City Board of Education, said the board has repeatedly asked Margate to consolidate school districts but has been “shut down.”
“Ventnor is now, and always has been, open to any and all shared services with the Margate School District,” he said. “When we had a curriculum director need, a business administrator need and even a superintendent need, we reached out, and there was no interest from Margate. In fact, the Margate board president recently reached out to one of the members of our committee and was told, ‘We are good with where we are at, but if we lose another 100 students or more, maybe we will need to talk.’”
In 2010, Margate decided to close one of its two elementary schools because of a lack of students.
On Margate’s part, Hiltner said about 15 years ago the city went out to bid on a quintuple combination pumper, or quint, firetruck that serves the dual purpose of an engine and a ladder truck and costs more than $500,000. Afterward, Margate got word that Longport, which has a volunteer fire company, was also going to bid for a quint. They reached out to Longport officials and proposed sharing the engine, but Longport rejected the offer and went ahead with buying its own.
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