VENTNOR — The Board of Commissioners and PBA Local 97 have come to an agreement on the terms of a new contract covering Jan. 1, 2017, through Dec. 31, 2020.
It is the final of five bargaining agreements approved this year. The board also recently approved several ordinances and resolutions that will save the city money on payroll and prevent hefty tax-rate increases in the future, they said.
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Mayor Beth Holtzman and Commissioners Lance Landgraf and Tim Kriebel, who are 15 months into their first term on the governing body, said contract negotiations and personnel changes, which were painful for both the city and the employees, would put the city on good financial footing moving forward.
“We went into this to see the city go in the right direction,” Holtzman said. “I don’t look at it as a long-term political career. It’s like a Band-Aid. We ripped it off quick.”
A PBA spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
Similar to the firefighters contract approved earlier this year, the police contract, which was ratified by the rank and file, increases the number of steps on the salary guide to 14 from seven.
“That means it will take 14 years instead of seven for an officer to get to the top salary,” Administrator Maria Mento said.
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The 27 officers at the top of the salary guide and captains, lieutenants and sergeants will receive a 1.9 percent increase in salary over the life of the contract, Mento said. The contract eliminates longevity pay for new hires and a $400 accreditation payment. A $750 clothing allowance previously paid to the officers will be included in the wage guide, and costs for uniforms will be borne by the department rather than reimbursed to the officers.
“Savings for every new employee over a 14-year period is $164,743 or $353,000 over a 30-year career,” Mento said.
The contract also amends how detectives are paid. Instead of receiving a 10 percent increase, they will receive a $2,500 stipend. All officers will continue to make the maximum contribution toward health care premiums, according to a schedule in the contract. Contributions range from 3 percent of the premium for the lowest-paid officers to 35 percent for those who make more than $110,000, but no officer will pay less than 1.5 percent of their salary.
The contract caps sick-leave payouts for those who retire this year to $80,000; $50,000 January to June 2018; and $30,000 after July 1, 2018. For employees hired after May 21, 2010, sick-leave payouts will be capped at $15,000, according to state law.
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Adjustments to the salary guide include a starting salary of $43,000 for a first-year officer to a top salary of $99,000 for an officer with 14 years of experience. Salaries for sergeants, lieutenants and captains range from $104,500 to $131,769.
The contract includes provisions for officers to receive or donate sick time for employees or family members with catastrophic health conditions or injuries.
Holtzman said the city was able to negotiate new contracts with the city’s five bargaining units by hiring a team of negotiators, which included Mento, labor attorney Nicole J. Curcio of Gruccio, Pepper, DeSanto and Ruth LLC, and auditor Leon Costello, who know labor laws and have helped other communities negotiate contracts.
“We never had that before,” Holtzman said. “In past years, we had politicians and department heads doing it.”
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The commissioners also adopted Ordinance 2017-31, which limits sick- and vacation-time payouts for nonunion employees. The “use it or lose it” policy will limit sick or vacation time carryovers to one year only. An employee can keep and use up to two years of vacation and sick time in any one year, but no nonunion employee will be able to receive more than two years of vacation or sick time as terminal leave.
“This caps terminal leave and vacation time and caps these huge payments,” Commissioner Lance Landgraf said.
Holtzman said there were only two more employees eligible to receive their entire accrued sick leave and vacation payouts.
One of them is Fire Chief John Hazlett, who is retiring Oct. 1. The board approved accumulated earned time totaling $233,609 to be paid in five installments of $46,721 ending Jan. 15, 2021.
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The city introduced another ordinance limiting longevity for nonunion personnel and employees without contracts hired before Jan. 1. Longevity increases will be awarded in five-year increments: $750 after five years, $1,500 after 10 years, $3,000 after 15 years, $4,500 after 20 years and $6,000 after 25 years. New employees hired after Jan. 1 will not be entitled to longevity.
Other administrative action taken includes having the entire board approve all new hires, which prior administrations failed to do.
“It’s a check and balance and an opportunity to be transparent,” Holtzman said.
“There was an ordinance on the books that required the commission to approve new hires, excluding seasonal hires,” Mento said.
The resolution approved the recent hiring of two police officers and a firefighter, and two part-time Recreation Department and Public Works employees.
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“None of this is additional money to taxpayers. All these positions were budgeted or (created) through attrition and are being backfilled,” Holtzman said.
The commission also approved salary adjustments for 12 city employees, increasing salaries $1,000 to $3,500 for certain positions.
“We offered these equity adjustments to those who were underpaid,” Holtzman said, but she cautioned that department heads would not be getting raises this year although they will be doing additional work.
Going forward, all nonunion employees would undergo annual evaluations before becoming eligible to receive a pay raise, she said.