GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - A judge's ruling ordering the township to resume paying township police officers for non-active duty military drill time on weekends is a burden on taxpayers, unmandated and will be appealed, township officials say.
For 20 years, the township had paid police officers their full salaries for time spent training in the National Guard on weekends, until they tried to end the practice in January 2012 to save money, police Chief Pat Moran said.
Moran said he did the research and found that few other police departments pay officers who also serve in the military reserves for military drill time on weekends.
Police officers in departments that are governed under the state Civil Service Commission are entitled to leave with pay for federal or state active duty, but "active duty shall not include inactive duty training such as weekend drills," Moran said.
But Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 77 challenged Moran's attempt to end the practice. An arbitrator ruled in favor of the union, but the township appealed.
Last week, Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Raymond A. Batten also agreed with the union, said Egg Harbor Township police Detective Ray Theriault, who also serves as president of Local 77.
"They cannot just arbitrarily stop a benefit because they don't feel like paying it anymore. There's a process for that, and it's called contract negotiations," Theriault said.
Currently, the township has five officers who also serve in the military. Moran said the township has tried to negotiate changes, but the PBA refused to give up the payments for those officers.
The union initially agreed to reduce the hours the officers were paid for, from full 12-hour shifts to eight-hour shifts, but a judge's ruling on a grievance in another New Jersey municipality caused the practice of reassignment to eight-hour shifts to stop, Moran said.
Township Manager Arch Liston said the township has no choice but to appeal "because the judge was wrong and it has cost the township a lot of money for the drill time pay over the years."
Liston pointed to the township's budget problems over the past several years, which included layoffs in the now 49-officer department.
Payments for officers training on drill weekends cost the township about $165,000 in salary in 2009, Moran said.
Arbitrator Frank J. Cocuzza determined in his January 2013 opinion that police officers who were affected by the policy would be compensated retroactively, dating back to January 2012 when the policy was enacted. The award also stated the only way to end the practice was through collective bargaining.
The weekend drill dates are provided to the township at the beginning of the year, but they sometimes change. Every officer serving in the National Guard gets activated for at least two weeks each year. But there are other activations, for training and for unexpected reasons, that also must be paid for by law, Moran said.
Other cities also provide pay for employees who are in the military, most notably Pleasantville and Atlantic City.
A city-wide policy calls for all employees in Atlantic City - including the officers in the police department, which falls under the state Civil Service Commission - to be paid for military drill time, said the department's spokesman Sgt. Monica McMenamin.
Pleasantville Police Department, also a Civil Service force, pays its officers who serve in the military for drill time.
"That's been a long-standing policy," Capt. Rocky Melendez said. "It's an agreement between the military and municipalities. I don't know if it's written anywhere, but every department I know of does it."
"We have not deviated from that," Chief Jose Ruiz said. "We have an obligation. They're serving their country."
Ruiz said he's not sure Galloway Township officials can end the payments, but if they do, a lot of municipalities could try to follow.
Egg Harbor Township, Egg Harbor City and Northfield Police departments do not pay officers for military drill time.
Police officers in Galloway are not state Civil Service employees and instead fall under the guidelines through the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.
As part of their grievance, the PBA pointed to an eight-year-old local finance notice issued by the state Department of Community Affairs that states municipalities may have separate policies or labor agreements that may provide compensation for attendance at weekend drills, but there is no legal requirement.
An employer is not required to pay military members for drill weekends or inactive duty training, according to the New Jersey Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
State statute says public employees who are members of the military are entitled to full pay without loss of time for federal or state active duty for a period of up to 90 days. Leaves of absence with pay are not authorized for inactive duty training.
"There is no doubt that it has been a past practice for the township to pay for the weekend drills, but budgets are tight and there are other options to getting the paid time off, especially when our legal counsel said it appears that there is no authorization to pay for it under state statute," said Moran.
"We support the men and women in the military 100 percent and comply with all of the laws regarding active military pay and benefits. This isn't about supporting or not supporting the military, it's about saving tax payer dollars, following the law and maintaining staffing levels," Moran said.
Staff Writer Lynda Cohen contributed to this report.
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Annual salaries of police officers who serve in the military in Galloway Township
Ray Casanova: $100,532
Patrick Neal: $89,497
Kevin Costa: $89,497
Rita Abatemarco: $89,497
Paul Smith: $89,497
Source: Galloway Township Police Department