As municipal budgets get smaller and state aid diminishes, many towns are splitting the difference between hiring a new employee and eliminating a position — they now hire a part-timer.
Compared with full-timers, part-time public employees — those who work fewer than 35 hours a week — not only make a much smaller salary, Egg Harbor Township Administrator Peter Miller said, “They get no benefits, no health care (and) no vacation days.”
Part-time employees can, however, enter the pension system — though unlike their full-time counterparts, their plan is optional. Even that option, Miller said, is available only at the beginning of employment.
“The pension is based on how long they’ve been a part-time (employee),” Miller said. “If you were part-time prior to 2007 and you made more than $1,500 a year, you’re in the pension system.”
After a change in the law, he added, part-time employees can enter a “directed retirement plan,” in which they have the option to make a 3 percent yearly contribution, matched by the municipality.
“Only at the time of hiring can they opt in,” Miller said. “Once they make a decision not to, they can’t decide to opt in three or four years later.”
Towns are taking advantage of the flexibility and cost-savings of part-time employees in a number of different ways, and the trend looks to only continue.
In Egg Harbor Township, in addition to the approximately 50 summer and seasonal part-time hires, the township also employs about 40 part-time emergency medical technicians, four to five dispatchers and a fire inspector, Miller said. In total, he said, about a third of the entire work force is part-time.
In Brigantine, City Manager Jennifer Blumenthal said that while the city has several part-timers now, “moving forward, we’re definitely looking at (adding more) part-time employees wherever feasible.”
The city has hired a consultant to look at staffing, she said — possibly combining departments, reducing salaries and wages through attrition — and part-timers “are always an option,” Blumenthal said.
Still, part-timers have their pluses and minuses.
“The good side of part-timers is that they’re less expensive because of (no) health benefits or pension,” she said. “But there’s also an unreliable aspect. They might find a full-time job somewhere else and leave after you’ve trained them in the position.”
In many cases, however, full-time positions don’t get downsized to part-time — they are simply being eliminated altogether.
“In the last three years, we’ve reduced the full-time work force 20 percent — none went to part-time,” Miller said, with the exception of EMTs, where a work force of six full-time EMTs and 24 part-time positions became a staff of 40 part-timers after the six full-time positions were eliminated.
That mix of eliminations and reduced hours is common across New Jersey, said Matthew Weng, staff attorney for the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.
“It’s a balancing act,” Weng said. “Whatever’s best for the municipality, for the budget.”
He added that some positions are made mandatory by the state and can’t be eliminated.
“You have to have a clerk, a CFO (chief financial officer), a tax collector,” he said. “But where municipalities feel they can downsize and eliminate positions, they do.”
Some towns, meanwhile, take those rules to the extreme, in which there are no full-time positions except for the mandatory ones, and sometimes not even those.
Cape May Point, for example, has only 23 employees, and only Constance Mahon — joint borough clerk, registrar and administrator, among other duties — Public Works Supervisor William Gibson, and Treasurer/Bookkeeper Lizabeth Shay are full-time, salaried employees.
“We’re a municipality of 624 homes and 241 people,” Mahon said. “To keep a $1.6 million budget under control, we have to do it on a part-time basis. And we don’t have the demand other towns have.”
The code officer works from 8 a.m. to noon Fridays, the tax collector also works as the full-time tax collector in Lower Township — “She works Thursday evening for two hours and can get all of her work done,” Mahon said. “It’s pretty efficient” — and the tax assessor also works one day a week.
“There are three people here from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” Mahon said. “The bookkeeper, myself and the receptionist” — the latter of which is an hourly employee.
The situation is very similar in the Atlantic County borough of Folsom, where Clerk Patricia Gatto said the only full-time employees are the public works director, court administrator and herself.
“From what I understand, it’s always been that way,” Gatto said. “Even the CFO is also the CFO of Mullica (Township) and Northfield.”
Some towns find themselves in between large townships and tiny municipalities, such as Somers Point, where City Administrator Wes Swain said, “We really don’t have so many positions that we can eliminate them. ... We have part-time people in several offices, like seasonal workers, dispatch, police special (officers).”
Staffing is down from where it was 15 years ago, he said, “but overall, when you have offices that are one or two people, you can’t make them smaller than that.”
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