VENTNOR – The city paid $168,017 in back pay to 35 members of the Police Department to correct an 8-year-old payroll error, according to a memorandum of agreement unanimously approved by the Board of Commissioners Jan. 5 and paid out in December.
The parties agreed to a reimbursement equal to four years of what was owed, and payout was funded through budget transfers, Mayor Beth Holtzman said.
The payroll error was discovered when the city started setting up meetings with Police Benevolent Association Local 97 to start negotiating a new contract, Holtzman said. The contract expired Dec. 31.
“This was a slip on the part of the administration, and the PBA never questioned it. Both sides were negligent,” Holtzman said.
“Eight years went by with this part of their contract not being honored. When it got to me, I said I would not even discuss the first four years because that contract is over and done with,” Holtzman said. “The only wrong I can right is in the latest contract, which was in effect when we learned of the error.”
Holtzman said she felt obligated to show good faith for future negotiations.
The clause in the 2009-2012 and 2013-2016 contracts states that $400 would be added to members' base pay before annual raises are calculated for each year of the contract. Members never received the adjustment.
After calculating what officers should have received, commissioners agreed to resolve the error to avoid dealing with a formal union grievance. They award each full-time member of the PBA who worked for the full four-year contract period a $5,000 payment subject to normal payroll deductions. Members not employed over the full contract period were awarded $650 for every six months of employment.
Additionally, the city and PBA agreed to add $1,600 to the base salary of all members effective Jan. 1. Since the contract expired in December, all claims to the accreditation acknowledgment adjustment expired with it, the agreement states. The agreement applies to active members and does not affect officers who are retired.
According to the 2013-2016 contract approved during the administration of Mayor Michael Bagnell, first-year patrol officers in Ventnor receive a base salary of $41,132. After seven years that more than doubles, jumping to $91,908 for patrol officers and $101,099 for detectives.
Sergeants receive $101,099 to $111,209 and lieutenants receive $111,209 to $122,330, with those who are detectives at the higher end of the scale. Captains receive $122,330.
Holtzman said she contacted former Mayor Theresa Kelly about the intent of the contact when Kelly signed it in 2009.
The bonus, called an “accreditation acknowledgment adjustment,” was given as an incentive for achieving full accreditation from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police and to "bring the police salaries in line with other municipalities," Holtzman said.
Accreditation is a voluntary process where police adhere to 100 professional "best practices" in the areas of administration, patrol, investigations, training, weapons and field operations. The department was accredited in May 2009 for three years and has been re-accredited twice.
The department is periodically reviewed for compliance, and is scheduled to be reviewed in the next three months, city administrator Maria Mento said.
"Their achievement in terms of the number of years as an accredited agency places them in an elite group of agencies of less than 8 percent of over 172 accredited agencies to date," said Harry J. Delgado of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, the accrediting agency.
“Mayor Kelly said it was her intention to add $400 each year of the contract,” Holtzman said.
The parties also agreed that the contract clause covering the accreditation acknowledgment adjustment is a “negotiable term and condition of employment” that is subject to negotiation during collective bargaining.