2019 Police Union Negotiations

May 6th, 2019

Dear Residents & Taxpayers,

As of the writing of this letter, the Board of Aldermen (“Governing Body”), who are elected by the Boonton taxpayers, are in negotiations with the police union (“PBA 212”).  Recent disparaging personal attacks and comments towards the Governing Body and uninformed rhetoric has raised questions from residents.  This letter is the Governing Body’s official response to PBA 212’s on-going campaign and to accurately set the record straight for our taxpayers and residents.

The Taxpayers & Governing Body Have a Track Record of Supporting the Police over the Last 3+ Years

Over the last 3+ years, Boonton’s Governing Body has respected and supported the police department in both words and actions.  The following are a few examples:

  • Salvaging the 2016 contract which had gone unresolved for several months
  • Confirming that the department was understaffed and working to pass resolutions and ordinance changes to allow for a full complement of officers . . .  something the police had been requesting for many years
  • Hiring 6 new police officers, back-up crossing guards, additional parking enforcement staff, and per diem dispatch staff to fill vacancies and be proactive in hiring levels allowing for increased police resources/public safety.  Those staffing decisions total approximately $900k+ for 2017, 2018 and 2019 (to 4/30/2019)
  • Exploring and partially budgeting for police presence in the schools
  • Funding $1,803,818 in police operating /expense budgets and capital requests to properly equip the police department with necessary resources (2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 budgets) 
  • Working diligently in committee to execute projects, community programs, and system improvements that the police department had been asking for and were finally accomplished.  This included a conscious effort to improve lacking police/Governing Body relations and building on police/community relations

We encourage residents to take the opportunity to contact the Chief of Police directly to confirm and discuss any of these facts with him.  Do not just take our word for it.

Boonton Police Salaries & Wages 

The Boonton police officers also earn very respectable wages and they are, as a group, the highest compensated employees of the Town of Boonton.

2018 Boonton Police Taxable Wages

2018 Police Salary Wages

Chart notes:

  • Not included in the chart are pension and health benefit costs (on average an additional cost of $50,614 per officer)    
  • While outside detail is not paid by the town, the terms are set in the current contract negotiations
  • Officer Waddilove’s lower wages are due to him not working a full year in 2018
  • The salary chart and the entire statement can be found online at boonton.org

Total Average Compensation for a Boonton Police Officer

In addition to the wages explained in the chart, the town makes an annual average pension payment of $26,614 per year per police officer (this funding goes to each officer’s personal pension account each year) and an average healthcare contribution of $24,000 per year per officer.  While Boonton police do not see every penny of what taxpayers contribute in their immediate paycheck, the average total cost of a police officer to the taxpayer annually is approximately $200,000 (based on the average $139, 047 salary of a 5-year+ officer . . .  who make up a majority of the force).  Not reflected in this number is the cost of lifetime health benefits for each police officer after retirement. Boonton is only one of 19 out of 37 municipalities in Morris County to offer such a benefit.  Within the 39 total municipalities in Morris County, 2 do not have Police departments (Mine Hill and Victory Gardens). To put lifetime health benefits into perspective, an officer can retire with a full pension at 45 with a life expectancy of 34 more years.  Even without factoring in annual increases, that benefit amounts to an additional $806,000 per officer.  The combined police portion of the 2018 municipal budget of salaries and operating/expenses was $3,228,946 of a total budget of $13,381,193.58 or approximately 24% dedicated specifically to police officers and their department.

For perspective on these salaries and wages, the average 2018 income for a Boonton police officer pay is $118,542. The number jumps to $139,047 for officers with 5+ years seniority.  Boonton’s non-police employee salary average is $81,048.  The median income of a Boonton household is $91,055 and $107,034 in Morris County.  A New York City police officer starting salary is $41,000 and a starting salary for a Boonton police officer is $40,154.  

During contract discussions, the Town and PBA 212 worked together to develop a spreadsheet to better understand where our officers rank in pay against other officers in Morris County.  While this is an important barometer in some respects, how much our police officers make versus others is not a simple comparison.  In discussion both groups genuinely sought to work on getting our officers improving within the County ranking.  There are two important notes about the County ranking.  First, that governing bodies from other municipalities may have negotiated too much to the detriment of their own taxpayers does not mean the numbers are a benchmark. Secondly, that Boonton is ranked where it is today did not happen overnight, nor can it be solved in one single contract . . .  not without immediate and irreparable financial harm to the taxpayers.

The easier argument to make, and the one being leveled against the Governing Body, is that by not paying what’s being asked, we are saying our police are not worth it.  The more difficult reality the Governing Body faces is balancing the value we place on our police officers / public safety with the entire municipal operation and all within the constraints of statutorily imposed budget caps.

The Police Union Always Has a Contract

On December 31st, 2018, the PBA contract expired. You may see signs around town that talk about our police serving the community without a contract.  Our police union NEVER works without a contract.  When a contract expires, the prior agreement remains in place until a successive agreement is ratified after which the employees are retroactively paid every penny they are owed under the terms of the new contract.  They are never without a contract nor are they ever shorted what both parties agree, through a new agreement, they are owed.  To go one-step further, under the more than equitable terms of the ratified 2016 contract, even if the police received a 0% salary increase in 2019, they would still be getting an average $11,487 (14.4%) pay increase per officer over three years.  This is the result of the guaranteed steps built into the 2016 contract, some of which exceed 9%.

What Happened in Negotiations

The PBA representatives and the Town discussed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA 3) that is always subject to review, analysis, consideration and ratification by both the PBA membership and the full Board of Aldermen.

When the Mayor and full board of Aldermen reviewed and fully costed out the proposed terms contained in the MOA 3, it was clear it would have a devastating impact on the Town’s budget and ultimately the Town’s taxpayers. How do we define devastating?  MOA 3 included:

  • $503,372 total increase in pay over 3 years
  • 42% total average pay increase over 3 years
  • $33,558 total average pay increase per officer over 3 years
  • When combined with the full budget, it would have caused a $1.1 million increase OVER the statutory 2% cap over 3 years (which would have to be covered by increased taxes, spending cuts and/or increase income from another source)
  • Exceeded the levy cap bank of $499k that would have left this bank empty for future year’s spending
  • An average three-year tax increase that is triple the municipal tax increases of recent years

Keep in mind, MOA 3 does not include the additional cost of the sergeants, lieutenant, and captain who belong to an entirely different and additional union that still must be negotiated after the PBA contract is resolved.  In addition to that, the Police Chief’s request for a salary increase must also be resolved.

Thus, the Mayor and Aldermen publicly and unanimously rejected MOA 3 at the April 1st meeting. 

However, prior to rejecting MOA 3, in discussion, the Governing Body had a sincere intent that we must do what we can to continue assisting PBA 212 in achieving their financial goals. Simultaneously, there was consensus by the Governing Body that helping PBA 212 reach their salary goals could not come at the devastation of the taxpayer’s wallets, which lead to the rejection of MOA 3.   At that same April 1st meeting, the board directed the Town Administrator to engage the Town’s Labor Counsel to continue negotiating an agreement that is fair to both the PBA members and the Town’s taxpayers. On Thursday, April 11th, 2019, the PBA served the Town with an Unfair Labor Practice Charge filed with the Public Employment Relations Commission. With this step, the matter was then (and still is) the subject of litigation, and thus the Mayor and Aldermen could not provide comments at the April 15th meeting in order to protect the Town and its taxpayers’ legal interests. 

The PBA’s Response to Rejecting MOA 3

The Governing Body’s silence was met with both reasonable/civil urging AND angry/personal attacks.  The personal attacks continue on the PBA 212 Facebook page and website, much of which could fall under the category of public shaming and bully tactics; things that we look to our police officers to discourage and prevent not incite, encourage, and participate in.  To be clear, opposing or conflicting views are always welcome at any Town meeting as they often provide valued insight. However, treating each other with respect despite any disagreements is the goal.  The Governing Body does not claim to be perfect in action, but at no time did we ever consider disparaging, publicly shaming, or building social media campaigns against the police.  As a result, this letter is merely a statement of the facts as we see them in order that the taxpayers understand both sides and can decide for themselves.  Despite the personal attacks many have endured, the Mayor and Aldermen will not be bullied into doing something unequitable for our taxpayers.

The Town’s Most Recent Offer

On Friday, April 26th, the town presented the union with MOA 4 containing generous terms and with the continued hope to arrive at a mutually beneficial contract.   MOA 4 was presented as a 4-year deal versus a 3-year deal for MOA 3.  For the purposes of an equal comparison, the numbers below are modified to allow for a comparative analysis between MOA 3 and MOA 4.  That said, MOA 4 included:

  • $293,697 total increase in pay to police over 3 years
  • 24.6% total average pay increase over 3 years
  • $19,580 total average pay increase per officer over 3 years
  • When combined with the full budget, it would have caused a $665k increase OVER the statutory 2% cap across 3 years (which would have to be covered by increased taxes, spending cuts and/or increase income from another source)
  • An average three-year municipal tax increase of approximately $130 per average home of $360,436.

On Thursday, May 2, the police union REJECTED the Town’s unprecedented offer.

The Current State of Negotiations

It was clear from their rejection of this record increase offer that negotiations are now best handled by a third party.  Our hope is that with a neutral third-party arbitrator, an equitable deal can be realized.  We want to pay our officers equitably, but we do not have a blank check to do so without the burden falling on the backs of our taxpayers.

On May 20th, the Governing Body, despite calls for protest by PBA 212, is voting on the lowest budget increase in many years without a loss of service.  It includes funding the first year of the above proposed MOA 4 agreement. While PBA 212 is solely focusing on the compensation of its 15 members, Boonton’s Governing Body, has the fiduciary responsibility of protecting the interest of its 8400+ citizens. That not only includes staffing but also paying for items like snow removal, potable drinking water, public safety, and funding the hundreds of other things necessary to run a viable and sustainable government.  The Governing Body’s task of balancing equitable pay for employees without breaking the backs of the taxpayer has been, and continues to be, a most difficult task.  While we may not be able to pay every employee what they feel they are worth, we strive for equitable pay, over a reasonable amount of time; all without devastating our taxpayers.

Mayor & Board Signatures

(PLEASE NOTE: This statement contains some minor edits from the Board's statement read by the Mayor, on behalf of the full board, at the May 6th, 2019 meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.)