EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Officials praised public employees Thursday for making nearly $1.6 million in concessions that have limited layoffs to 10 workers - for now.

Mayor James "Sonny" McCullough said he planned to go straight to the negotiating table from a news conference, where McCullough and Mainland Police Benevolent Association Local 77 President Ray Theriault, a sergeant on the township force, signed off on an agreement that cut the 88-officer department's budget by $900,000.

They struck that deal, however, before the state announced funding cuts last month. The township will get $764,694, or 11 percent, less in state aid for 2010-11.

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The township will try to make up that money through more concessions from employees, Township Administrator Peter Miller said.

That could mean layoffs, even in the initially spared Police and Public Works departments that are staffed between 12 and 15 percent less than peak levels a few years ago.

Once they conclude the second round of union talks, township officials will have another $1.6 million to cut if they want to stay within the 4 percent state cap on annual tax increases used to cover operational costs, such as salaries.

"Everything's on the table. We have a huge amount of money to cut," McCullough said.

The township also needs to put aside more than twice as much money as usual to balance an expected increase in unpaid taxes. Last year, the collection rate dipped from 99.6 percent to 99.1 percent, a seemingly negligible half-percent that equated to about $200,000, Miller said.

Based on that and expected tax increases from the township, county and local school district, the township determined it would need an extra $460,000, he said.

"It needs to be sufficient to ensure (other taxing districts) get all their money," Miller said.

The township may approach the state Local Finance Board for a waiver on the tax-increase cap. Once the board announces the deadline for waiver applications, the township will know when, exactly, it will introduce the budget, but Miller said he expects that will not happen for at least a month.

Last year, Egg Harbor Township appealed the board's decision to reject its bid for a waiver and ultimately became one of 62 municipalities statewide to qualify. The result: a 12.5 percent tax increase.

The Local Finance Board granted 62 of 65 requests to exceed the cap in 2009 and 39 of 40 in 2008, state Department of Community Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said.

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Worker concessions

Egg Harbor Township has saved $1.6 million so far by cutting and freezing pay to public employees. In addition, the township also has shrunk staff by10 so far this year, bringing the total reduction with vacancies through attrition to 32 positions during the past couple years. Workers also have helped pay for dependent health coverage for years.

Mainland PBA Local 77: 85 officers gave up $804,000 in overtime pay, wage freezes and forwent reimbursement for unused sick time. The Police Department saved another $100,000 by waiting to buy squad cars, cutting the training budget and freezing pay for Chief Blaze Catania and two captains.

Government Workers Union: 91 employees conceded $500,000

Non-union: 26 workers gave up $110,000

Township Committee: Five elected officials agreed to $36,000 in pay cuts

Communication Workers of America: Eight employees conceded $25,000

Sources: Egg Harbor Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough, Mainland Police Benevolent Association Local 77 President and township police Sgt. Ray Theriault, township Administrator Peter Miller

Long-term savings

Egg Harbor Township has found a way to save $4.5 million. But the results will not come to fruition in time to help this year’s bottom line. Rather, the predicted savings will accumulate during the next decade.

The township will start using trash trucks with mechanical arms Jan. 1, 2011. A couple weeks before that, residents will get compatible trash cans from the township. The new bins will be 50 gallons — versus the widely used 32-gallon size — and have wheels and a locking lid, Administrator Peter Miller and Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough said.

Replacing the five-vehicle fleet will not require additional taxes because the township already raised the money for the project in 2008.

The move will pay for itself after 18 months, officials said, and during the next 81/2 years will cut $4.5 million from local spending. Although the new vehicles and accompanying buckets will cost more than replacing the old trucks with similar models, the mechanical arms will replace the pair of workers that accompany each truck.

The township hopes to roll out its new trash-removal system by Jan. 1, 2011. Subsequent layoffs in the Public Works Department will depend on staffing levels at that time in light of the economic situation. If the crisis has continued, officials expect to eliminate positions.

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