Daily Archives: July 20, 2010

Renaming Of New Highlands Bridge "Captain Joseph Azzolina Memorial Bridge" Passes Senate Committee

In tribute to one of the leading voices of the Bayshore, Joseph Azzolina, the NJ Senate Transportation Committee approved yesterday the renaming of the new Highlands bridge the “Captain Joseph Azzolina Memorial Bridge”.

Azzolina who passed away on April 15th of this year was a life long resident of the Northern Monmouth Bayshore area and a leader of the community who served in both the NJ State Senate and Assembly from 1965 until 2006.

Mr. Azzolina was a true patriot, he served in the United States Naval Reserve from 1944-1986, Captain (Retired).[1] As a reservist, he returned to active duty in 1983 for a tour of seven months – four of them off the coast of Lebanon – aboard the battleship USS New Jersey. He received three Meritorious Service Medals and two Navy Secretary Commendation Medals in addition to other combat awards and honors. As an Asemblyman, Azzolina led the effort to acquire the retired ship and have it docked in New Jersey waters where it has been transformed to a floating museum.

In an email sent to family and friends, John Azzolina issued the following statement:
” Our family is proud to announce that a Bill renaming Highlands Bridge passes senate committee Today will be named after our father Joe Azzolina. The Senate will vote in the fall to finalize. We are so proud of his accomplishments in life and will never be forgotten!!!!!!!!!!!
The Azzolina Family”
To read more about the renaming of the bridge in honor of Joseph Azzolina you can check out the article on the Bayshore Courier News website.

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Filed under Battleship New Jersey, Bayshore, Highlands Bridge, Joseph Azzolina, Monmouth County


Before the beginning of last night’s Middletown Township Committee meeting the following statement from Committeeman Sean Byrnes’ was passed out to members of the press and other attendees of the meeting which addressed his feelings and thoughts about this years budget and the process that produced it:

The Middletown Township Committee will hold a hearing tonight on the proposed municipal budget for 2010. The proposed budget calls for almost a 14% increase in the municipal portion of the tax levy in Middletown. Despite the fact that the current financial downturn started in 2008, the Township Committee has taken no dramatic steps to offset a tide of revenue reductions and expense escalations that will now produce a spike in the tax levy imposed upon Middletown residents. Tonight’s meeting will be the first public meeting dedicated to the 2010 budget, even though Middletown is now 7 months into its 2010 budget year. This budget will not be approved until mid-August, since there is a waiver application to the Local Finance Board on the Township’s tax levy cap that must be approved before the budget can be approved.

To appreciate the degree to which Middletown has ignored this crisis, it is worth studying what happened in 2009 and what Middletown’s elected officials knew in 2009:

  1. In 2009, Middletown deferred pension contributions to avoid a $1.5M expense. This temporary gimmick, that the acting CFO (and former CFO of Middletown for many years) called a “fiscally foolish decision”, meant that Middletown started 2010 with a budget base that did not include that expense. In other words, we temporarily avoided an inevitable expense. Moreover, the contribution in 2010 is approximately $1.9M. Bottom line, $1.9M shortfall in pension contributions to start 2010.
  2. Middletown had to borrow $800,000 in December 2009 from its 2010 budget to pay 2009 expenses. Thus, to start 2010, we knew we were $800,000 in the hole.
  3. On the agenda for tonight’s budget hearing is a resolution to bond to pay tax appeal settlements in excess of $2.0M. The Township Committee knew as of mid-2009 that this obligation would be coming due.
  4. The 2009 Deferral of pension contributions must be paid back (with interest) over 5 years starting in 2012.
  5. The appropriation for health care expenses in 2008 resulted in a $500,000 emergency appropriation. In 2009, this account was almost $1,000,000 short (that’s why you had to borrow the $800,000 from 2010). So unless there was a decrease in health care expenses (which we know there never is), Middletown needed to come up with $1,000,000 in 2010 to offset this shortfall.
  6. Middletown had 3 emergency appropriations in 2010; it’s neighboring towns had none.
  7. In 2009, Middletown used $400,000 in revenue from an old tax appeal appropriation that was never used, but this was a one-time event, not to be repeated, meaning that we needed to come up with new revenues of $400,000 in 2010 to offset this loss.
  8. Middletown knew that there were outstanding collective bargaining agreements that would result in increases for prior years that would generate several hundred thousand dollars in additional cost.
  9. Middletown also knew that police officers had slowed their ticket writing costing the Township several hundred thousand dollars in revenues.
  10. By February 2010, Middletown knew that snow plowing costs might well exceed what was appropriated.

Despite these unprecedented events, the Township failed to act. In mid-December 2009, Committeeman Byrnes warned in a press release that we were facing a $5.0M shortfall and that we needed revised spending plan. The tax levy increase in the proposed 2010 budget is $5.0M. We still have not had a public meeting to discuss the budget.

Although the 13% increase is bad enough, the situation is actually worse. The proposed 2010 budget includes over $1,000,000 in one-time revenue that will disappear in 2011. We also have no mechanism in place to estimate the increasing burden that retirees place on our health care costs. Indeed, Committeeman Byrnes suspects that the big jumps in the last few years are due in part to retiree health care expenses. We have also reduced our surplus to almost nothing over the last few years. We are living on borrowed time. Governor Christie’s tool kit will help, but it is not a magic bullet. More important, we must have a plan for how to use the tools.
The majority of the Township Committee has yet to come to grips with the financial reality facing New Jersey municipalities. The cuts that must be made will be severe and will change the nature of the services delivered by all municipalities. They will eliminate many discretionary programs and focus our efforts on the core governmental services that must be provided to citizens. Until we accept that fact, taxes will continue to rise beyond what our citizens can afford.

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Filed under budget introduction, budget planning, Middletown Township Committee, Sean F. Byrnes, tax increase


I wasn’t able to attend last night’s Middletown Township Committee meeting due to a death in the family. I knew that it was going to be contentious and a spectacle to observe, and according to an article posted on the RedBankGreen.com by Dustin Racioppi it seems to have been just that, below is a small snippet of what he wrote:

“…A pending review of the 2010 spending plan at the state level pushed back the adoption date to mid-August. Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger said the Local Finance Board, which reviews municipal budgets for compliance with state laws and regulations, is backlogged, and Middletown is set to have its done by August 11.

Meantime, the township committee held a public hearing on the $65 million proposal, which would increase average tax bills by $211 annually.

As usual of late, the governing body took a beating from the public.

“Everything we buy goes up, but everything coming in goes down,” resident Angela Bennik said. “At the end of the day, when our tax bill comes in, it’s up.”

Bennik later said she’s disappointed with how the town has been run, without a budget in place for most of the year and, in tough economic times, an increase to boot.

“The town should be run like a family,” she said. “I go out to get groceries. If I can’t afford it, tough, you can’t eat. You can’t spend what you don’t have.”

There’s also a sense of frustration that the municipal portion of tax bills skyrocketed over last year, up 13 percent.

“I have wants and I have needs. I can’t have all my wants,” Sandra Craig Barry said. “You are asking us to sign off on a 13-percent increase. We just can’t do it anymore.”

“Not really,” Scharfenberger interjected. “It’s going to be cut down from there.”

Scharfenberger says pending measures, like spreading out retirement pension and benefits payouts, will drastically alter the spending plan when it comes back for adoption next month…”

It seems like they had themselves one hell’va, rip roaring , good time last night! But after reading Racioppi’s column I am left with a few questions for our acting mayor Gerry Scharfenberger.

First of all, Scharfenberger is quoted as saying that the tax increase will not be 13% or above because it will be cut down from there… really, by who? Is Scharfenberger and the rest of his GOP majority buddies waiting for the Local Finance Board to make cuts to the proposed increase for them, therefore skirting their own responsibilities over the budget? It would seem that way.

If that is not the case and Gerry and his friends are trying to spread out pension payments and other cost to limit the 13% tax increase then why wasn’t this plan presented last night with the corresponding savings to the tax rate? They have had nearly a full month since the budget was first introduce to the public on June 23rd, why wasn’t anything new presented last night?
Lastly, according to Scharfenberger, the online suggestion box at the Township’s website is not bearing the fruit that they had hoped it would, so it seems the majority that controls the Township Committee, is out of ideas of their own on how cut costs.
A quote from the article has our mayor stating,

“I would prefer people say what they could do without, we have to hear that. We can’t just surmise it, and then there’s a lot of people on the other side.”

This quote is a classic example of a “cop out” if I ever saw or heard one. As our mayor, Gerry Scharfenberger needs to have a backbone and lead… or step down. Make the tough choices you were elected to make and stop looking to others in order to make yourself and others look good. It is a sign of weakness and unbecoming of an elected official.
You can read Dustin Racioppi’s full article >>>Here


Filed under budget introduction, Dustin Racioppi, Gerry Scharfenberger, Middletown Township Committee, RedBankGreen.com, tax increase

NJPP Monday Minute 7/19/10: Public Employees: Are they overpaid?

State and local government budgets are under severe strain. Rather than blame the world-wide recession, which has caused tax revenues to fall and the demand for public services to increase, politicians want to blame public employees who, they claim, are over-compensated.

Gov. Christie has proposed his 33 bill “Tool Kit” as a solution to reducing costs for towns, schools and higher education. The 2.0 percent property tax cap is the centerpiece of his package, which he claims will bring property taxes in New Jersey under control. The Tool Kit includes policy changes in the areas of “civil service, collective bargaining, employee pensions and benefits, red tape and unfunded mandates, election reform, executive superintendent authority and shared services.” All of these changes are likely to substantially change public employment in New Jersey.

But are public employees really overpaid?

In May of this year, Rutgers University held a seminar at which this question was the central issue. Professors Jeffrey Keefe from the School of Management and Labor Relations and William Rodgers from the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development presented some facts about public-private employment in New Jersey. Among their findings:

  • A basic comparison of wages indicates that private sector employees are on average paid more than public sector employees.
  • These comparisons vary markedly when education is considered. Workers with only a high school education are compensated better in the public sector than in the private sector because most public sector jobs are not paid at minimum wage and include health insurance and pension benefits.

The table below compares annual earnings at various education levels. People with bachelors’ degrees, those with professional degrees and those with master’s degrees all earn significantly more when employed by the private sector rather than the public sector. Clearly the differential between the private sector and the public sector is not due solely to wages.

Comparing Public-Private Annual Earnings

Compensation by Education Private Public

Average Wages $69,979 $56,694

Average Total Compensation $104,409 $89,917

Wages by Education

Less than high school $27,719 $41,000
High school $44,760 $44,050
Some college $53,901 $47,567
Associates $56,181 $50,916
Bachelors $89,041 $56,641
Professional degree $175,141 $79,330
Masters $107,328 $69,171
Doctorate $108,528 $109,482

  • Public employees are more educated. Forty-four percent of private sector workers have at least a college degree compared to 57 percent in the public sector.
  • Wages of less educated men in the private sector have eroded over time. Some of the possible reasons for this are the erosion of the state’s manufacturing base; the decline in private sector unions; and an increase in the supply of less educated and less skilled men.

These trends are mirrored in a report released in May 2010 by John Schmitt at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He found that state and local employees appear to earn more than private sector employees and he attributes that to the fact that state and local employees are older and substantially more educated than private sector workers. Another interesting bit of data he cites is that 60 percent of state and local government employees are women compared to 46 percent of employees in the private sector.

Professor Keefe has done further analysis of the public-private compensation issue since the Rutgers seminar in May. Many of New Jersey’s financial problems stem from inadequate information. If it had been known that the state would lose $24 billion in revenue from the sales and income tax cuts under Gov. Whitman, would we still have done it? If it had been known how high the cost to the state of providing pensions to every public employee who earned $1,900 a year would we still have permitted it?

The Senate is considering bills included in Governor Christie’s Tool Kit starting today and the Assembly plans to review the reforms during the summer. That’s as it should be – open and public and transparent. But let’s also be transparent about the affect this legislation will have on local governments, too. For a change let’s do things right. Let’s figure out what the true future costs and the benefits of such changes will be to the services provided in New Jersey.

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Filed under Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey Policy Perspective, private employees, public employees, tax saving tool, wages