ATLANTIC CITY — A new law signed by Gov. Chris Christie on Friday allows the state to offer an early-retirement incentive program to the city’s police officers, firefighters and first responders facing layoffs.
But details on how the law will be implemented, who qualifies for it and who will pay for it aren’t spelled out.
The responsibility for doing that falls to the Department of Community Affairs, which has yet to develop the “form and manner” in which the program will be implemented, said Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the department.
The lack of details has led to confusion among the city’s police officers in his union, said Matt Rogers, president of Atlantic City Police Benevolent Association Local 24.
“We are shorthanded already, and the bill calls for those positions not to be replaced,” Rogers said. “We are at bare bones already; this is going to leave us even more.”
Despite signing the bill, sponsored by state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, there is no guarantee that the program will ever be enacted, Christie said in a statement.
“Further, it applies only to individuals whose positions are eliminated pursuant to the Recovery Act,” Christie said. “Absent those particular circumstances, the state may implement an ERI under the Recovery Act, but has no obligation to do so.”
The state Office of Legislative Services has said it cannot estimate program’s cost if it is put into effect.
“The OLS does not have sufficient data to compare the fiscal impact of employee layoffs to the fiscal impact of an early retirement incentive program,” said a report from the state Office of Legislative Services dated Aug. 16. “The total costs of an ERI and the amount of salary savings achieved through an incentive program will be driven by the number of employees who participate in the ERI and the types of benefits offered to eligible employees.”
As part of the law, city would not pay interest on the early retirement payments and can pay off debt over a 10- to 15-year period
State representatives have said the program could cost as much as $47 million to implement, while representatives of the police union say it would cost about $23 million.
Christie signed the bill hours after a Superior Court judge Friday rejected the state’s plan to cut the size of the Fire Department. Judge Julio Mendez’s ruling blocked state overseers from cutting 50 firefighters, a move Mendez said would compromise the safety of residents and visitors.
In October 2016, the city, as part of its Five-Year Recovery Plan to fend off a state takeover, suggested a program that would make public safety workers with 20 years of experience eligible for the program.
Using the city’s criteria, 20 city firefighters would be eligible, Mayor Don Guardian said Tuesday.
The city’s fire department currently has 198 members, 79 of whom are paid through by a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant, which expires in September. The city also will apply for a SAFER grant for 57 fire fighters for next year, Guardian said, adding he does know how much the city will seek.
“After talking to the chief (Scott Evans), we believe that 15 people would take the offer,” Guardian said, adding the state would have to pay for it because the city cannot afford it.