The introduction of two ordinances that would eliminate several positions in municipal government, create some new positions and restructure several departments proved controversial Monday night, starting with a warning from the township attorney.
The ordinances, which Council President John Ducey said were not drafted by the regular township attorney, would eliminate eight positions within township government and create three new ones. Not all of the eight positions are currently filled, Ducey said.
In addition to the eight positions to be cut, which include those currently held by Deputy Business Administrator Juan Bellu and Recreation Department Head Dave Francese, the departments of Recreation as well as Community Development and Land Use would be eliminated entirely, with their operations rolled into other departments.
Warning from Attorney
Ducey said the elimination of the positions could save taxpayers as much as $418,000 per year, but the introduction of the ordinances on first reading began with a warning from Township Attorney Jean Cipriani.
"These ordinances have a tremendous impact on a number of employees' employment," said Cipriani. "Some have bumping rights."
That means even if some of the affected employees are appointed and not covered under civil service laws, they retain the right to move back into the civil service system, which in turn could cause other employees to be "bumped" out of their positions.
Cipriani said introducing the ordinances without identifying potentially-affected employees and issuing them so-called Rice notices came with risk.
Rice notices are legally-mandated notices given to certain public employees whose employment will be discussed at a governmental meeting.
"You did not contact, as far as I know, any of the individually-affected employees," said Cipriani.
Cipriani, along with Business Administrator Scott Pezarras and Councilman Domenick Brando, balked at the fact that they were not notified of the pending ordinance introductions until late Friday.
Cipriani also said there were "significant substantive problems" with the proposal, though she did not identify them at the meeting.
Brando abstained from voting to introduce the ordinances. All of the other council members – with the exception of Councilman Joseph Sangiovanni, who was not present – voted in favor of introducing them.
"I may very well, in the end, vote for these ordinances," Brando said. "But I just need more information."
Additions and Subtractions
The proposed ordinances eliminate eight positions, six of them being deputy department heads. They are the deputy department heads for: Administration, Finance and Public Affairs, Land Use and Community Development, Engineering, Law, Parks and Recreation and Public Works. The remaining two positions to be eliminated are Director of Land Use and Community Development and Director of Parks and Recreation.
Some of those positions, such as the deputy department head for the Law Department, are not filled. In the case of the Department of Law, the township uses an outside law firm as its counsel instead of an in-house team.
Three positions would be created under the ordinances. They are deputy department heads for the Finance Department and the Tax Assessor. A deputy township clerk position would also be created.
The elimination of the current salaries will save $418,000, when the additional salary of the deputy clerk position is factored in.
"When we ran, we were running on doing this," said Councilman Jim Fozman. "And this is the right time."
Ducey said most of the positions being eliminated were created in 2008, and for years the township ran efficiently without them.
"These changes were made in 2008, and you all know what happened from 2008 until today with our taxes," he said. "They skyrocketed."
State law requires a public hearing and a second vote before the ordinances can be enacted. Those actions are expected to take place at the Sept. 25 council meeting.