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Council Delays Vote on Employee Salary Freezes, Incentive Raises

Councilman Tom Riche pushes for Village Manager Ken Gabbert to be eligible for raise, Deputy Mayor Albert Pucciarelli says more analysis on financial impact is needed.

A litany of concerns over salary ranges and the exclusion of the village manager – all under the backdrop of a startling report that warns of massive impending budget woes – led the Ridgewood Village Council to postpone a vote on a pair of ordinances that would freeze employee salaries but allow for "merit" increases.

The dual ordinances – 3364 and 3365 – would lock salaries for non-union staff and management at a flat zero percent increase in both 2012 and 2013 but allow for up to 1.9 percent of salary in incentive raises for each year.

Village Manager Ken Gabbert would determine the merit compensation, drawn from a pool of over $34,000, he said. The bonuses would impact pension obligations. Unionized employees under collective bargaining agreements wouldl not be impacted by these agreements.

Ridgewood enacted the program in 2011, with several staff and council members hailing it as the new wave of private-sector influenced model of compensation. The previous incarnation of the ordinances allowed for employees to receive up to 4.0 percent of salary in each year, more than half of what's currently proposed.

But the 2013 effort was frought with questions from council members.

Gabbert should be eligible for bonus, councilman says

Councilman Tom Riche, a supporter of the overall model, said excluding Gabbert from the pool reeks of inequality.

"My objection to both these ordinances is the village manager has been excluded and targeted to not participate in this," he said. "I think this ordinance, specifically 3365, fails the fairness test and I think if we're going to tie this across the board all employees should be included in it."

Gabbert had not been included in the previous incentive program ordinances, but did  in 2011.

Impact of salary changes needs to be seen

The concerns Riche had over the ordinances ran a stark contrast to that of Deputy Mayor Albert Pucciarelli.

"It's very important that this council and future councils keep a very close eye on salaries in the village," he said. "It's the biggest portion where we have any flexibility and we don't even have that much flexibility."

The village also has to be "fair" to employees, he said, noting that some will be more impacted by the ordinances than others. 

Some of the salary schedules – the range in which employees can be paid in base salary – have increased.

Pucciarelli requested that the council members be able to see exactly how the salary scales would increase based on the merit bonuses issued. He spoke of concerns brought up in the Tiger Team report.

No guarantee employees receive full bonus, history shows

Payments issued in 2011 are likely a good indicator that not all eligible for the increases will receive the full bonus compensation. A Patch analysis of payments in 2010 and 2011 saw the average for 23 employees was 2.0 percent, half of what was possible.

One employee, Peter Taylor of parking enforcement, received a big fat zero, while another, Court Administrator Maria Doerr, received 3.75 percent.

Salary cycle must change

If the village is to break the cycle of issuing big upswings in its salary scales, a new approach must be taken, Councilwoman Gwenn Hauck said. The notion of having non-union employees compete with unionized workers – receiving annual salary increases of nearly 4 percent –  for compensation catch-up perpetuates a "broken structure," Pucciarelli said.

The same can be said for rising salaries of the top paid employees of the village, another member added.

"I don't think the way you do it is to add more and more to the top to continually escalate costs," Councilwoman Gwenn Hauck said. "I just don't think that's a solution to the problem. There are other ways we have to address it."

Bernadette Walsh saw things differently when it came to appropriate pay scales. 

"I'm strongly of the opinion that if employees dedicate themselves to the village we have a responsibility to make them feel they can have a career here," she said. "All of us in business want to have a career."

Ordinance at odds with 'Tiger Team' recs

Regardless of the indvidual concerns of the council members, the ordinances fly in the face of recommendations made by the volunteer village finance team (known as the "Tiger Team").

To avert a collision course with massive property tax increases, the group advocates for a merit-based system, with employees receiving up to $15,000 per year at the highest level. The total pool recommended is $1.2 million per year, a monstrous gulf from the existing ordinance proposals.

But the recommendations also call on the village to make seismic changes in the salaries it pays employees, pension obligations, healthcare givebacks and how quickly employees can reach higher pay scales.

The ordinances as presented allows for longevity payments to increase base pay (not recommended by the Tiger Team), a full 15 sick days per year that can be carried over the years (currently a $7 million liability), and no changes in the health care benefits as required by law (though many employees will now need to pay up to 35 percent of health care costs according to a sliding scale as a result of state laws).

Starting salaries for new employees would be lowered under the Tiger Team's recommendations, some drastically. To provide some perks, new employees would be eligible for higher annual salary increases and greater merit pay. (Note: collective bargaining agreements are not factored into 3364 and 3365.)

Police chiefs could start as low as $85,000 if the Tiger Team's recs are followed, though recommendations have them making more than any suboordinate.

In the salary ordinances, the police chief would make $190,000 (or $500 more than anyone beneath them). The Village Manager could score up to $210,000, according to the ordinance.

What's next?

Ultimately, the council's range of questions has delayed a vote until at least Feb. 13. There's good reason to believe the complexity of concerns will push the vote back even further.

USAUSA January 17, 2013 at 01:05 PM
Are you people crazy? These folks unless otherwise screw it up have jobs and careers for life! They are not leaving anytime soon, with vacation, pension, future benefits are kidding me? There are people losing jobs daily and having there pay cut daily! You have no right to even consider incentive pay BS. Wow these folks are lucky to have there jobs, how about going through the Ridgewood employees and look for dead wood? Maybe that would be better idea, oh wait you can't fired anyone, they cannot be fired, unless they steal quarters!
jp1 January 17, 2013 at 01:29 PM
Village manager is very well paid not if the councilman wants him to have more lrt him pay it out of his own pocket.
RdgwdGRock January 17, 2013 at 03:12 PM
another article that is meant for The Onion. whay, this is serious? Police Chief = $190k, and Village Manager = $210k. No fricking way.
Harry Houdini January 17, 2013 at 04:10 PM
How come Governor Bluster doesn't come down on Borough Administrators or Police Chiefs making more then him?
concerned resident January 17, 2013 at 05:04 PM
We just simply don't get it. Every business, government at the state level and many localities are recognizing that the spending can't continue unabated. What is wrong with Ridgewood. Our officials fear layoffs, can't see their way to control costs or more appropriately reduce costs, seem to miss that any increase in pay leads to never ending increases in other obligations (e.g., pensions) which now represent huge liabilities. the council says "what can we do....they are predetermined obligations". But then the move forward to exacerbate the situation. Let's see some relief. Not all citizen's have the luxury of unlimited resources and our elected officials have the charge to do right by all. Let's get zero base budgeting, let's get new tiers of pensions that won't eat the tax payer alive, lets manage. Before our manager get any increase let's see him bring forth a no increase budget!!
Mike Kender January 17, 2013 at 05:47 PM
James - could you attach the PDF copy of the Tiger Team report to this article, since it is relevant to the ongoing fiscal debates?.
James Kleimann January 17, 2013 at 05:59 PM
It's been attached as a PDF to this article since I posted at 12:48 a.m. Look beneath the picture of Gabbert and you should see it.
JAFO January 17, 2013 at 06:16 PM
There are some really simple, common sense, recommendations in the Tiger Team Report: Employees who work on Friday after Thanksgiving should not be entitled to overtime pay or holiday pay and should be compensated according to the employee's normal base pay rate. This is not a holiday and should not be treated as such. The maximum number of permitted paid sick days for any Village employee should be reduced from 15 to 7 days per calendar year, and unused sick days should NOT be accumulated beyond December 31st of the same calendar year During our conversations with Village management, we were informed that the Village has the ability to purchase vehicles under NJ state contract pricing. We were told that the discount is so significant that vehicles could be purchased and sold after two years of use for approximately the original purchase price. In effect, the Village could establish a two year replacement cycle that would allow the purchase of most vehicles at “no net expense” to the Village. We asked why this was not being done already and were not given any reason why this could not be done. Village employees who retire with 23-25 years of service are entitled to family health benefits, covered 100% by the taxpayer. When that employee dies, the spouse is still entitled to this benefit for the rest of their life, again 100% taxpayer funded. 40% of the Village health insurance premium goes to paying this expense.
Mike Kender January 17, 2013 at 07:42 PM
It's amazing that they would even think about raises for anyone at this point given the stark numbers laid out in the Tiger Team report. Unfortunately, the previous council blew a great opportunity, in my opinion, to get significant concessions out of the police and fire unions when their contracts came up for renewal about a year ago. The current council is now almost powerless to do anything about the two biggest cost centers in the municipal budget (police and fire), which are locked in for another 4 years. I respect our police and fire professionals, but their pay, benefit and retirement packages are very generous by any stretch of the imagination.
lowertaxesJohn January 17, 2013 at 11:03 PM
There must be a lot residents willing and ready to write their tax increase checks. What part of the economy is really bad they dont understand? this town will continue long time residents if taxes continue going up. You need to cut costs. Can't afford it.
longtimer66 January 18, 2013 at 03:03 PM
And let's get a similar study done over at the other govt unto itself... the BOE.. and quickly, too-- needs to be a priority. To quote an old saying... we have met the enemy... and it is us. Great job on that report. Now the task is to make some things actually happen and also at the BOE. It's time to stop sweeping ever more stuff under the rug and kicking the can down the road yet another time. It's time to actually make things sustainable again... even if that means (among many other things) making changes to the Faulkner Act form of local govt. We didn't always have that, and we didn't always have the kinds of murky endlessly spiraling costs we have now. We didn't have so much falling apart all over town either. Yet at same time $ are found for raises, bonuses, plus turf it, pave it, light it, and on and on. My family's here over 50 years and sev. generations. We haven't had kids in the schools for years, but we've stayed.... and paid... and paid. Sure taxes go up everywhere, but not like they've been going up here. There are still many others here like us, though plenty have already left. No one seems to remember that many longtime folks have done a lot to help make this the town the newer people desired so much to live in... Many others leave as soon as last kid graduates, but this is our hometown and we've tried to stay. Unlikely we can continue much longer though, just can't afford it. Unsustainable is an understatement.
Rona January 18, 2013 at 03:07 PM
Check it out people this is what your paying for: http://www.nj.com/news/bythenumbers/ Go to "Active public employee payroll" & "Retiree public employee payroll" and look for Ridgewood the salaries are already sky high and ridiculous. It would be great if Ridgewood could have the nerve to stand up to taxpayer burden for the benefit of a few. It could be a model for the state in whole if something could be done. Whether it's decreased salaries, lesser insurances or higher co-pays, or early retirements and immediate pensions. Or better yet a revision to everything. People can't take or accept it anymore!
KenC January 19, 2013 at 01:47 AM
This is a good article, except for one thing. Saying that an employee "received a big fat zero" seems more like an opinion than a fact.
Vostra Guida January 23, 2013 at 06:12 PM
Though it may sound harsh, if you don't make the effort to reign in labor costs in difficult economic times (when employees are not able to simply leave for another job) you will not only over pay for their services now, but you will pay even more when the economy picks up and the employees have leverage to demand more pay (when alternative jobs are available). When the good times return, do you think the employees will remember that Ridgewood was good to them in the bad times and not insist on raises, or do you think they will say, "thanks, but I can make a little more in one of the neighboring towns so pay up or I'm leaving"? Those of us in the real world (i.e., the private sector world where you can't raise taxes to support your spending habits) have been living with this reality for many years now. Why should those in the public sector be exempt from such issues? If our leaders can't be strong for us now when we need them to be, then we should not re-elect them.
Mikka H January 24, 2013 at 01:30 PM
Great link Rona, Thanks !
maureen January 24, 2013 at 01:44 PM
Does anyone on the council read these posts ? They seem to make their decisions in an altered reality ? James, The council needs to realize the people of this town have had enough of public sector entitlements and want fiscal tightening . That is the reality of the private sector. There is no Santa Claus , grow up .
kevin January 24, 2013 at 07:20 PM
People People just read this line and repea it over and over,text it tweet it,email it to your neighbors, but byt doing anything WE let this happen... TOWN MANAGER GABBERT RECEIVED A SALARY INCREASE OF $20,000 in 2011 !!!
Willard January 25, 2013 at 05:32 PM
As someone said earlier, we have met the enemy and it is us. As long as we have parents who think that little Billy won't get into a good college unless we give the teachers a raise, our fate of higher and higher taxes is sealed. The single best thing we can do to stop the growth in spending is to stop defined benefit pensions for all new hires without exception, non-union immediately and union when the contracts are up for negotiation.
longtimer66 January 26, 2013 at 03:29 PM
Willard's comments above are good ones. I'm the one above who noted we've met the enemy and it's us. Too much more, more, more and turf/pave/light it etc etc. Who can sustain that? We can't- even if all the proposed new developments are built to add ratables, and Valley and other non-profs pay big PILOTs (and pigs fly like in newer Geico ads...) That's why a similar study needs to be done - now- of BOE finances. Seems the only way taxpayers can assess the whole situation and (hopefully) start to make some informed choices- because choices need to be made. We can't just continue status quo--as the report makes very clear-- and it only covers the muni side. Yet since we all pay the whole bill-- of which 2/3 is BOE-- those finances need to be reviewed and evaluated too. Taxpayers need to insist that happen via a similar independent group - right away. By the way, just noticed Village web site now has contracts covering many Village employees via links on home page. Seems a lot more info there lately, which def. is progress in terms of transparency. You can read about benefits, pensions, longevity bonuses, "steps", insurance, comp time, work rules and a lot more there. And I hope many people will do that. But I also hope many demand a similar group get to work on analyzing the BOE finances. If the Council and the BOE are the respective "boards of directors" of their "domains", doesn't that make those who pay for it shareholders?
JR January 31, 2013 at 02:40 AM
IMPEACH PUCCIARELLI. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE MS. WALSH
Long Time Resident February 01, 2013 at 01:40 PM
Now there is a really intellegent, thoughtful and usefull comment NOT!

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