NJ Conference of Mayors Focuses on Arbitration Cap

By Lauren Wanko

It’s a message that’s become quite familiar to Garden State mayors.

“We need a vote on the arbitration cap,” said Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno.

In Atlantic City this afternoon, Guadagno addressed the New Jersey Conference of Mayors and took advantage of the podium time to rally support for the governor’s version of the interest arbitration renewal bill, which caps police and fire base salary awards at 2 percent.

The administration’s been calling on the Assembly to post the bill. Just two weeks ago, many of the very same mayors at today’s event joined Gov. Chris Christie in Trenton for a news conference on the arbitration cap.

“We need your help in talking to every one of the legislators over the next couple of weeks and ask them to post it. That’s all, let us have a vote,” Guadagno said.

Bay Head’s mayor says his town’s budget fell within the 2 percent cap this year, but he fears without the arbitration cap, residents of his storm-damaged community will shoulder the cost.

“We’ve already had to make some emergency appropriations that we need to carry us after the storm and if that’s taken away it something we can’t do to help the towns people recover the way they should,” said Bay Head Mayor Bill Curtis.

In many towns, it’s also about having more control over how to divvy up resources.

“It has a big impact. Part of us keeping the 2 percent budget intact is being able to have unified costs in the budget so we have the ability to have a stable budget,” said Buena Vista Mayor Chuck Chiarello.

“We need to keep that in place to keep our costs to residents down,” said Haddon Heights Mayor Edward Forte Jr.

“We have no control over what an arbitrator or mediator would assign so it would have an impact on taxes no question about it,” said Boonton Mayor Cy Wekilsky.

Montclair’s deputy mayor wants the governor and legislature to come to a compromise on the bill.

“I think it’s very important to have a cap, but we need to take into account the police and firefighters as special people they are the front line workers and I don’t want to insult them without talking about the possibility of adjustments,” Bob Russo said.

“We have a great relationship with our police department and I think it’s necessary especially in these economic times,” said North Caldwell Mayor Joseph Alessi.

Other mayors insist that without the arbitration cap, they would be forced to cut critical services.

“There’s very little local mayors can control in terms of their finances so pick one critical service, we’d have to cut it, say roads,” said Long Hill Mayor Guy Piserchia.

The Union Beach mayor says his town can’t afford to cut services.

“The services we have are all essential. It’s a small town,” Paul Smith said.

Many mayors say they feel caught in the middle of a power struggle and fiscal deadlines are rapidly approaching.