By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Is this finally the year that New Jersey will clamp down on unused sick and vacation time payouts?
The latest impetus comes from Jersey City Police Chief Phil Zacche, who is entitled to a check for $512,000 when he retires June 1. That’s for 450 days of unused sick and vacation time over a 38-year career.
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop says that shouldn’t be and reform is necessary.
“You can’t take away what was negotiated prior, so we may not like it, we may disagree with it, we may think it’s disgusting, it’s horrible, it’s not fair to the taxpayers, those are all a fair and valid sentiment. But it was negotiated so I think that you got to respect what was previously negotiated and correct it going forward,” he said.
State employees had their payouts capped years ago at $15,000.
State Sen. Jennifer Beck is one of 15 legislators who have introduced bills this session that would cap local and county worker payouts — in her case at $10,000.
“As case after case comes up where people have accumulated 500 unused vacation days and thousands of hours of unused sick time, it makes it clear that we can’t afford to provide this kind of benefit any longer. It’s worth billions of dollars across the state of New Jersey in property taxes,” she said.
A recent analysis by NJ Spotlight puts the total burden on property taxpayers at $1.9 billion.
Jersey City ranks first, owing nearly $118 million in retiree payouts. Newark is second, owing more than $52 million. Bergen County government is third owing more than $50 million. That’s for retirees from county government alone.
Four years ago, Chris Christie used to rail against these huge payouts, calling them boat checks.
“The people who get it call it a boat check and you know why — it’s the money they use to buy their boat when they retire,” he said.
But when the Legislature sent the governor a bill capping payouts at $7,500, he vetoed it, saying the amount should be zero.
At the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, Executive Director Michael Darcy says most towns have already passed ordinances that reduce the payouts. He’s not sure a state law is needed.
Those getting boat checks are mainly public safety personnel hired many years ago, he says.
“What you’re seeing is the last vestiges of an old legacy policy, which is left over from years and years ago, worn out by these are the people who are retiring after 40 years of service some of them. So these are all legacy policies which I don’t think you’ll see in effect for anyone who’s been hired in the past 15, 20 years maybe,” Darcy said.
It may be a legacy policy, but it galls the public when it happens and it’s happening again. It’s being reported that the Asbury Park Police chief will retire this Sunday and walk away with a check for $127,000 on top of his pension.