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Bergen sheriffs officers’ raises figure prominently in freeholders’ budget

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

ONLY ON CVP: The Bergen County freeholders this past week introduced a 2014 budget that pays sheriff’s officers long-delayed raises, commits $2 million to a new justice center complex and boosts funding to county educational facilities.

It also reduces the tax levy for the first time that anyone can remember — by $52,907 from last year.

Freeholder Maura DeNicola said the board will be funding raises due under the contract for sheriff’s officers now that a state appeals court has ruled that Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan can no longer block them.

The estimated payout for officers at the top step in pay is approximately $10 million.

DiNicola said some monies have been sent aside each year in anticipation of the raises.

County Treasurer Joseph Luppino told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that he is in the process of costing out the raises to a precise number, while planning how the four years of increases will be paid to the employees.

He said he has no target date yet for the raises to take effect, and that most likely they will be paid over time in a series of steps. Sheriff’s officers reach the top step after nine years, which is the majority of the officers in the department.

The direct funding of the new River Street justice center, meanwhile, saves the county roughly $70,000 per year that it would have cost to borrow the money, Freeholder Chairman David Ganz said.

FAST FACTS:

  • Total budget – $507,678,139.66
  • Total to be raised by taxes: $370,968,807
  • Total reduction in tax levy from 2013:  $52,907

The $507 million spending proposal cuts the blueprint proposed by Donovan by $4 million — nearly half the amount initially drafted by the Freeholder Budget Committee.

The plan incorporates $500,000 in additional revenue from the sheriff and utilizes $1.7 million from county trust funds.

It returns $1.87 million to Bergen Community College, which had its portion slashed by $5 million dollars by Donovan in 2011 and 2012.

The committee’s proposed budget “is the result of our commitment to go line by line to identify and eliminate fat,” Freeholder Chairman David L. Ganz said, adding that the board was “fiscally conservative without jeopardizing any services.”

“The executive gave us a $7 million increase, and we thought we could do better,” Ganz said, echoing the sentiments of all freeholders, both Republican and Democrat.

A key tactic was the tapping of county department trust fund accounts that had gone untouched for years. The accounts include fees for passports, certified documents and tax lien letters, among other areas.

Both Ganz, who’s been a freeholder for 12 years, and Nick Felice, who joined four years ago, said trust funds had never been discussed before.

The funds generate income every year, and can be used for tax reduction “in perpetuity,” said Freeholder Joan Voss.

Final budget adoption is set for July 9 following a public hearing.

STORY/PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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