Officials Discuss Salary Caps and Tax Limits

By Christie Duffy

With a deadline looming that could impact police and firefighters’ pay — and ultimately New Jersey’s property taxes — legislative leaders met with Gov. Chris Christie this afternoon.

“We’re just hammering out all the details and hopefully maybe even today we should have a resolution on it and we can move forward,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

“We’ll get it done. I’m very confident we’ll get it done,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

It’s up to the legislature to extend rules that cap police and firefighters’ pay increases at 2 percent.

Mayors also need to abide by a property tax cap of 2 percent. Meaning, if the salary pay cap goes away, mayors could be put between a rock and a hard place, paying potentially bigger public safety salaries with still-limited tax revenues.

“The concern is that we both have the cap but that the process that exists also is one that we can depend upon,” said East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov.

Legislators and the governor have until April 1 to extend the cap or make it permanent. Or else — Christie’s cabinet official warns — it could mean service cutbacks for New Jersey towns, higher taxes or even layoffs.

“It is extremely important that our legislature makes this cap permanent. We cannot allow it sunset,” said New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard E. Constable III.

Police and firefighter unions say the cap has hurt their members. Unions say it leads to unbalanced negotiations and that more exceptions to the cap should be included in the extension.

In addition to pay limits, affordable housing, utility providers and education spending were all issues raised Wednesday, as well as the sharing of services between towns. Most in the room raised their hands when asked if their town does currently share any services such as trash and debris removal or even police work and firefighting. But it’s a point of contention for mayors of some small towns. Senate President Sweeney has pushed a bill in the past, with Gov. Christie’s support, that would force towns to share services or face a loss of state aid.

“As long as I see S-1 as a back door to consolidation of municipalities, in an attempt to starve smaller towns to death, I will oppose this thing to my dying day,” Point Pleasant Mayor Vincent Barella said.

“Listen, if that was my plan, I’d come out and tell you. I gave up on consolidation,” Sweeney said.

While some small town mayors may be concerned about sharing services to the point of consolidating completely with other towns, other mayors who consolidated or share services say it’s worked out for them — such as Camden City’s shared police force with Camden County.