Daily Archives: March 20, 2011

>An Eyewitness Account Of How The Middletown Library Board Gave In

>By guest blogger Linda Baum

There were only about twenty attendees at Wednesday’s meeting of the Middletown Library Board, a fraction of the crowd that showed up last month. Aside from Committeeman Settembrino, who is on the Library Board, no one from the Township was there. And the mood was different. It was calm, and everyone was polite. I took that as a bad sign.

A handful of people spoke during the public portion at the start of the meeting.

One woman brought up Brian Nelson’s comment at the meeting last month that he had personally lobbied the NJ legislature for the new law that requires public libraries to give part of their surplus to towns. Brian Nelson is Town Attorney. The woman said she found it disturbing that he was being paid with tax dollars to do this. Mr. Settembrino responded that Mr. Nelson has other clients besides Middletown, but of course he failed to mention that many, if not most, of those clients are other towns and the county. So, essentially, Mr. Nelson was paid with tax dollars to do something that most taxpayers don’t support.

Jim Grenafege and I had a common message, that the Township has a history of mismanaging tax dollars, either ignoring problems or responding to slowly or inadequately. Add to that a history of nondisclosure and bad financial decisions – bad for the taxpayers, anyway — and it’s no small wonder they are looking for rescue now. My take is that if the Township is looking for a handout, the Town Committee needs to show that they have prudently managed the funds already in their charge. There is much evidence to the contrary, and I will get into all of that another time.

Right off the bat, Board President Gabrielan made a motion to give the town $250,000, half the amount that administrators and attorneys had come up with. Only he and Board VP Milne voted yes on the motion, and it failed 5 to 2.

At least one Board member expressed concern that much time had already been spent on discussion by the administrators and attorneys, who were charged with arriving at a figure. Mr. Gabrielan pointed out that they were not also charged with voting for the Board. Mr. Gabrielan felt the negotiations did not accurately represent facts or address concerns, and said that information could be presented in any manner to achieve a desired result. And with that, the sentiment from the last meeting reared its head.

Other Board members seemed just to want to get this issue behind them and get on with other library business. The Board members felt the need to agree to an amount to the town’s liking in order to be insulated from such attacks for the remainder of 2011 and to protect the library from the threat of transfer to the county system, a threat Mr. Gabrielan noted was without merit.

“Tax relief” was a handy feel-good phrase. It had to be obvious to everyone just how little relief the money would provide. I suspect the Board had an eye to how they would be painted in the press. In fact – if I heard right — a joint press release was part of the negotiated agreement.

There was also considerable concern about the town’s plan to handle the parking lot expansion on behalf of the library as part of the giveback, while still expecting the library to pay the debt service on a bond for the work. The issue, of course, was that the library should not have to pay anything after the giveback, which includes funds that were earmarked for the construction. I am not sure how this was resolved. I think the town backed down, and in the end it was agreed that after the giveback, the library would owe nothing more to the town for the lot construction.

After all was said and done, the Board voted to give just short of $500,000 to the town.

I stayed until the end, just me and two members of the press. There was a second public comment period at that time. I was the lone speaker. I felt the need to point out that the lot construction arrangement was not a good thing for taxpayers because the town would be using the library’s money for some other purpose and then bonding for the construction. That will burden taxpayers with additional unnecessary debt that we would not have had if the library handled the work itself. And it will be yet another reason why the town will be back before the Library Board next year and the year after crying for more money.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, budget surplus, Library Reserves, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, surplus funds, tax increase

>Ordinance 2011-3027 And When Is A Salary Freeze, Not A Salary Freeze Explained

>I had some spare time on Friday so I thought that I would do a little research into the new salary ordinance being proposed by the Middletown Township Committee. I went down to Town Hall to request some information about it, but before I explain to you what I found out, here is a little rundown on what the new ordinance is about and what it is replacing.

Ordinance 2011-3027 Amending Management Salaries and Non-Union Employees, which can be found on the township website under the Clerk’s tab, is an attempt by the Township to be more transparent (TC Attorney Brian Nelson’s words) when it comes to non-union employees salaries. The ordinance list about 50 non-union job titles broken down into 5 sections titled:
Management
Statutory Employees(N.J.S.A. 40A:9-165)
Officers
Elected Officials
and
Special Assignments (Expiring 12/31/2011)
Accompanying each job titled is a single salary figure with no further explanation, which leads one to believe that those salaries are the current employee salaries or will be once the ordinance is approved. It is very misleading.
This proposed ordinance will replace existing Ordinance 2009-2996 , which instead of providing a single salary per job title, contained salary ranges per job title. Employee salaries could fall anywhere within a range that would reflect position (title and description) value in the broad market place; the regional market place; specific industry, as well as allow comparison across industries.
As I said, I went down to Town Hall thinking that I could get some information via an OPRA request on employees that currently fill positions and their current salaries as outlined in Ordinance 2011-3027, but I was wrong. It seems that you can only OPRA actual document that contain information, you can’t request that a list or document be generated to provide you with information.
Be that as it may, while I was discussing what I wanted to know, I kept being told that all the information that I wanted to know was listed in the ordinance and that NO employee would be receiving any raises in the ordinance due to a salary freeze which was in effect.
When I stated that the information I wanted wasn’t there, that I questioned current salaries as opposed to salaries list in the ordinance and that current salaries for a handful of employees that I found on the APP’s Data Universe where listed higher, sometime much higher, than those in the proposed new ordinance, it was suggested that I speak to Township Administrator Tony Mercantante.
Tony Mercantante explained that what I was trying to do was not possible because lists like the one I was asking for didn’t exist. When I told him that I now understood that, that I questioned the salaries listed in the new ordinance and whether they were accurate, he stated hat the ordinance language will be rewritten before it is reintroduced Monday night because he had concerns that the language was misleading . Mercantante stated that the salaries listed in ordinance 2011-3027 are for starting base pay only and are not reflective of what individuals in those positions are currently earning. But the assured me that no one was getting a salary raise because there was a pay freeze in effect.
He said that many are making more money annually than what the ordinance calls for due to longevity and merit pay. When I asked him for a list of salaries of current non union employees so that I could compare anyway, he said some of those numbers may change between now and the time the numbers would be provided. I asked him how that could be when there is a “salary freeze” in effect? Mercantante became a little wishy-washysaying that the salary freeze is only for actual raises to the base pay rate; step raises, longevity, merit or promotional type raises are not affected by the freeze.

I asked how could that be when you are dealing with non-union employees? He said it is in the contracts. What contracts I said, since when did non-union workers and department heads have contracts? He said whatever contracts are in effect for union employees, the same terms of those contracts hold for non-union Township employees.

I left there shaking my head because it didn’t make sense, but then again when did anything that the people who run Middletown do make sense?

So the bottom line for those asking questions or leaving comments on this blog is, proposed ordinance 2011-3027 salaries are starting base only and are not reflective of what individuals in those positions are currently earning. These salaries would be for new employees only, no current non-union employees will have money taking away from them based on the figures in this ordinance.

Also as far as I’m concerned,there is no true salary freeze happening. If a merit, longevity or other type of employment milestone is met by an employees of the township, they will be receiving a salary increase. So if you happen to one of the lucky ones who will enjoy a bump in your pay sometime this year congratulations! All others, piss off as they say.
On a side note, I asked Mercantante when the budget would be introduced. He said tentatively April 4th as part of the workshop meeting. He does not expect at this time to hold a special presentation meeting to introduce the budget, but that may or may not change just as the April 4th date might.

When I asked him about having to submit the budget to the state by March 16th, he said that date keeps changing because the state isn’t ready. So as usual the budget introduction is a floating target, but when it is introduced, we will be able to see that planned salaries for all those listed in the ordinance without and Opra request YEAAHH !

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Filed under merit pay, Middletown NJ, OPRA requests, resolutions and ordinances, salary freeze, step raises, Tony Mercantante, Township Administrator