Town rethinking ‘exempt’ pay package

By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


With Christmas in sight, Mayor Alberto Santos and the Town Council tried to bestow some gifts but to those for whom the presents were intended, the spirit of the occasion felt more like the holiday Grinch.

On Dec. 23, the governing body invited public comment on a previously introduced ordinance proposing to grant 2% pay raises – for 2014 only – to 13 “exempt” (managerial) employees unaffiliated with a union, three of whom hold more than one job title.

However, after hearing dissenting opinions from several of the employees who’d be the beneficiaries of the pay adjustment, the mayor and council agreed to table the ordinance pending further review.

Just to be clear: the employees weren’t saying they didn’t want the increase – they were saying it didn’t go far enough. Their last increase came in 2011 but the governing body opted to give nothing for 2012 or 2013.

Chief Financial Officer Shuaib Firozvi, among the affected employees, said: “The total dollar amount of the proposed increase [which he calculated as $34,000] is not significant compared to the town’s overall budget [about $61.7 million] and the individual positions involved.

“And,” Firozvi added, “the town’s financial position hasn’t prevented it from settling with other employee [union] groups for multi-year agreements that didn’t skip two years.”

Firozvi currently earns $108,205 a year as CFO and an additional $33,495 as tax collector. He also receives separate salaries as financial officer of the Kearny Municipal Utilities Authority and as part-time CFO for Northvale in Bergen County.

Another unhappy employee is Fire Chief Steve Dyl, who says he and his colleagues are “always available. We put a lot of time in” – beyond the normal working hours and aren’t entitled to overtime. Dyl’s base pay is $159,207 plus $15,920 in longevity and $12,859 in holiday pay.

And Police Chief John Dowie, whose base pay is $166,800, but also collects $16,680 in longevity and $9,309 in holiday pay, said he was upset because the town’s proposal “didn’t address 2012 and 2013. I don’t think we’re better than other employees but we do want similar consideration given to other employee groups.”

“In 2012,” Dowie said, “a lot of us worked a lot of days during [Superstorm] Sandy. I went a full month without a day off.” During a typical work week, Dowie said, “I put in 55 to 60 hours.”

Several of the exempt employees previously worked under contracts or employment agreements with the town but those have all expired, Dowie said, “so we’re kind of in limbo as to what benefits we’re entitled to. It leaves you wondering.”

Maybe it would be better for the town to propose something more “standardized” for this group of employees, Dowie said.

Other employees included in this group are:

• Michael Martello is on the books as earning $101,052 as construction/zoning officer plus $30,450 as town administrator, and an extra $12,000 as network administrator. • Pat Carpenter, who, late last year, was tenured as municipal clerk, is making $68,317.

• Health Officer John Sarnas, collects $125,256 base pay plus $12,525 in longevity.

• Water Superintendent Richard Ferraioli makes $101,052 base pay plus $11,005 in longevity.

• Public Works Superintendent Gerry Kerr earns $96,118 plus $3,844 in longevity.

• John Peneda gets $75,000 as tax assessor plus $24,500 as Urban Enterprise Zone director. • Personnel Director Kim Bennett draws $76,728 plus $7,672 in longevity.

• Town Treasurer Monica Charran earns $70,194.

• Deputy Town Clerk Lyla DeCastro gets $61,289.

• Mayoral aide Mary Torres receives $47,411 plus $2,844 in longevity.

“Many in this group have been working 25 to 30 years so their salaries would reflect cumulative increases received during that time,” Santos said.

“We have high respect for the work they do,” the mayor said. “Most work well beyond their regular hours.” However, he added, “most of the exempt employees have the highest salaries in town, so not granting them increases for 2012 or 2013 isn’t the equivalent of, say, denying an increase to an employee with a lesser salary. Going without [that increase] is not going to be the hardship it would be for the employee making the lesser amount.”

Elaborating, Santos said: “The town clerk, deputy clerk and assessor positions are on [salary] steps; by state law, the town clerk, tax collector and tax assessor are entitled to pay parity with ‘similar’ employees but there are no clear guidelines on the meaning of ‘similar’ employees.”

So what happens now? The ordinance, as it now stands, is dead and would have to be reintroduced in another form, assuming it is revived, Santos said.

While it’s not the town’s intent “to have 13 sets of negotiations” with each of the exempt employees, Santos said he and the council are awaiting a “counter-offer” from the two chiefs and CFO which, he added, would still have to comply with the state-mandated 2% cap and “would have to be inclusive of longevity and any additional compensation beyond the base pay.”

Once such a proposal is received, Santos said, “we’ll invite [all 13 employees] to come in and discuss” the issue. That doesn’t mean that the town’s ultimate offer would be structured the same for everyone, he said, suggesting that some may prefer to have the 2% spread over time or to get a fixed cash amount, for example.

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