Regarding the March 24 editorial, "Police, fire salaries/Keep arbitration cap":
In 2011, the Police and Fire Public Interest Arbitration Impact Task Force was created to investigate the effects of the new 2 percent hard cap on both the public and uniformed officers. The final report can be found at the New Jersey Association of Counties website - njac.org. The issue is now up to the Assembly, but I am offering a view as a taxpayer and a firefighter.
The cap was created to control property-tax inflation; 2 percent is the maximum allowable overall salary increase in a contract. For decades, police and fire departments have used contracts with a low starting salary. There is a schedule of increases (steps) based on time on the job. During that time, the officer is trained to a skill level commensurate with full salary. This salary is comparable across the country when the cost of living in New Jersey is considered. In an attempt to help the public, we added more steps, resulting in a reduction of lifetime earnings but successfully easing the tax burden.
Longevity is the reward for staying with the same job and skill set and refining it through many years. In the private sector, this usually means moving on several times. Percent increases are now fixed dollar amounts. Again, this reduced the tax burden.
Officers going through steps and longevity increases take most, if not all, of a 2 percent increase in a contract. A top-paid officer may go five or even eight years not eligible for either steps or longevity. So their pay is frozen while inflation leaves them behind.
The result is that our financial futures are in jeopardy. We understand this has been the misfortune of far too many in the public we serve. But we need flexibility to work with new hires and creative contracts instead of ruining the financial futures of so many.
Health care and increases in pension contributions have steadily reduced our income over the past three years and will continue through 2015. If the cap is left in place, there will be no cost-of-living allowance, and inflation will leave our families further behind.
After signing the legislation, Gov. Chris Christie said, "Together, we're showing New Jersey is serious about providing long term fiscal stability for our children and grandchildren." But what about our children and grandchildren?
I support the scheduled sunset of this cap to avoid the disastrous effect leaving it in place will have on the police and firefighters of this state and their families. I hope you will do the same.
D. BRAD WILTSHIRE
D. Brad Wiltshire is an Ocean City firefighter and a former president of FMBA Local 27.