Sunday, February 27, 2011

Aberdeen’s Police Contract

According the to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the “Great Recession” began in December 2007. Though technically over, we still have high unemployment, lackluster growth, looming inflation, and unsustainable government spending and debt.

Aberdeen’s police contract
covers this time period, 2008-2011.

As a whole, the Aberdeen Township Police Department, including salaries, benefits, and other operational expenses, will run over $5 million this year. Here’s a breakdown on why it costs so much.

As can be seen from the below chart, officers received a 3-year salary increase ranging from nearly 17% for senior officers to 63% for junior officers. Police officers begin earning over $100,000 a year after 7 years on the force.

Officers also have the opportunity to earn time and a half for overtime and up to $1,000 a year for unused sick time (not including a lump sum payout at retirement). Detectives earn an extra $3,000 a year.

3-Year Growth
0 Year*
1 Year
2 Year
3 Year
4 Year
5 Year
6 Year
7 Year

*During the first year, officers receive different salaries between the first six months and the second six months. I averaged the two.

Sick Time and Vacation Days
Like schoolteachers, sick time is cumulative. Although the final payout is capped, there doesn’t appear to be any barrier to a 20-year veteran simply calling in sick the entire last year of service.

Police officers receive 15 sick days per year in addition to 15 vacation days. (20-year vets get 22 vacation days.) Officers have the option to cash-in up to 5 unused vacation days per year.

Job Protection
Also like schoolteachers, police officers are protected by seniority – any reduction in force would first hit the most junior officers.

Health Insurance
In addition to a $2,000 deductible, here are their out-of-pocket expenses:

Current Employee Contributions
Medical single $312
Medical Family $528

Current Employee Contributions
Dental $80.00
Rx Single $120
Rx Family $264

Doctor Visits $20.00
Emergency Room $50.00
Rx (prescriptions) $10/20

After 25 years of service, through the Police and Firemen's Retirement System, officers can retire at age 55, with full health benefits for life, and a guaranteed pension equal to 65% of their final year’s base pay.

New Jersey residents have the nation’s largest unfunded pension liability per capita with a total unfunded pension liability at $53.9 billion. That’s on top of an unfounded liability for health care costs at $66.8 billion. By comparison, the entire state budget last year was $29.4 billion.

Naturally, living in a free, secure, and healthy environment is worth all this and much more but that’s not how prices are set. If they were, water would cost more than gold. Instead, the only question is cost – How much does it cost to attract and retain a highly motivated and excellent police force?

It would be nice to think $5 million a year is enough but we all know that number will be going up and up and up. >>> Read more!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Aberdeen’s Cadillac Plans

Aberdeen’s town council must’ve thought it was pretty funny passing a budget nine months after the fiscal year had already begun because they recently performed an encore, posting the 2010 budget in 2011. Heaven forbid the taxpayers might want to know how their money is being spent.

These pages have detailed before the skyrocketing taxes and plummeting reserves but, with a budget like Aberdeen’s, it’s so chock full of surprises there’s always something new to discover.

The latest nugget is the township’s Cadillac group healthcare plans. At $1,604,000 for 85 employees, that’s nearly $19,000 per employee. (See sheet 14) Considering that’s just an average, we can only imagine what a family plan must cost.

Healthcare is also the fastest growing part of the budget, having doubled from $810,000 in only four years.

It’s all the more shocking considering the town council’s repeated claims of tackling healthcare costs. In June, 2009, Mayor Sobel stated, ”health insurance costs and contractual costs skyrocketed this year. That is why we changed our health insurance carrier to save $300,000 a year.“

Three months later, Mayor Sobel insisted, “next year we will see a savings from our health insurance.”

The town even issued a press release announcing, “Savings from this strategic move should be realized beginning in the first quarter of 2010.”

In fact, over that “next year”, insurance costs rose 35%, adding another $400,000 to the budget.

Thank goodness for the savings. I guess the next announcement will be about ending play-to-play. Oh, wait. Aberdeen already did that one too.
>>> Read more!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dissecting the Upcoming Fire District Elections

"Give me chastity and continence, but not yet." – Saint Augustine

After Aberdeen’s town council rejected the school district’s proposed 1% tax increase to defend the taxpayer, the council enacted an 11.4% tax increase and raised sewer fees. Now their flacks in Fire District #1 appear to be playing the same shenanigans for this Saturday’s elections.

Quick quiz – Who are the candidates for the fire district commissioners? If you’re among the 99% of residents not directly involved in FD #1 on Lloyd Road, chances are you don’t know. Nor would you be able to find out. No sample ballots. No public notices. No listing on the township website. Heck, you probably didn’t even know there was an election this Saturday at the firehouse from 2-9PM.

Well, to end the suspense, the candidates are Michael Ash (independent), and Vincent Vinci’s pals, Jimmy Lauro and Paul Percussi.

I’m saddened to see Jim Vena dragooned by the geezers to serve a two-year term. I’ve known Vena for years. He’s been living in Aberdeen since the days Lloyd Road was a dirt path. As the local plumber, he has a well-deserved reputation for ethics and competence. It’s too bad he’s putting his name at risk of being dragged behind Jimmy Lauro into the rat hole.

How do I know who’s running? Because I got a copy of the marching orders they’ve been handing out at the firehouse. Notice they don’t even tell the men what they’re voting for, just to vote yes.

The proposed budget is a showcase of gimmickry. They’re cutting taxes by 11% while increasing operating expenses by 3%. How, you ask? By raiding the reserves. Normally, the fire district levies taxes to fund reserves and purchase protective equipment. This year, they’re doing the exact opposite, draining reserve funds meant for fire trucks to buy personnel equipment.

Then again, maybe they’re just being proactive – using their reserves before the town council seizes the “excess funds” like happened to the library.

The big driver for higher spending is the 17% increase in fringe benefits, the second largest budget expense following salaries. Whatever fringe benefits covers, at nearly $100,000 and almost a fifth of the tax levy, it’s obviously not “fringe”.

Another 5% of taxes goes to cover the fire commissioners’ salaries. Add another 3% for the part-time district chief and you begin to wonder how much of the tax levy actually goes towards fighting fires.

Given the traditionally low turnout, a hundred votes could change the election outcome. Let’s see if this year is like all other years. I hope not.
>>> Read more!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

School Board Takes Back Seat to Another Superintendent

Despite opposition from within the administration, the Matawan Aberdeen School Board appointed David Healy to replace outgoing superintendent, Dr. Richard O’Malley. Healy is well known to the district and therein lies the dispute – in 2005, then superintendent Quinn appointed Healy as a high school principal and, suffice to say, Healy never made tenure. Most recently, Healy was director of operations at Middletown.

True to form, the Barza wing of the school board, now reduced to Demarest and Ruprecht, were noticeably and non-coincidentally absent the night of Healy’s appointment. (Apparently, they lacked the courage to put their opposition on the record.)

However, Healy’s remarks to the Independent reveal a disturbing trend in school governance; Healy made it very clear that he’s in charge and he’ll be setting the agenda for the school district. Not once in his published remarks does he defer to, or even mention, the school board. And the scary thing is the school board will likely allow him to take the lead.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. The superintendent is supposed to be an agent of the school board, enacting school board policies and achieving school board goals. The district mission statement should be his and the board’s guiding light.

Unfortunately, the school board is only too happy to take a back seat, to let someone else shoulder the responsibility, and thereby make themselves unaccountable for any failures but free to share any praise.

During my brief stint on the board, Ruprecht once told me he would not consider or discuss any proposal that had not been offered by the superintendent. While the board majority doesn’t share his opinion, their actions lead to the same result.

Ask the school board if Everyday Math should be discontinued? Should elementary students be allowed to use calculators? Should high school graduates be expected to speak a foreign language? Should guidance counselors have an expanded role overseeing students’ curricula and performance? How are the academies being evaluated? Are we providing sufficient opportunities and incentives for our most gifted students? How are we partnering with the parents to educate their children?

In each case, the board will likely defer to the superintendent, forgetting that he doesn’t set policy but merely enacts it. The superintendent doesn’t set goals. He achieves them.

I wish Healy luck and I can perfectly understand his enthusiasm and excitement in becoming chief. However, somebody on the school board needs to remind his colleagues that accountability begins with them and they must set the policies, the goals, and the expectations. The school board must take the lead. That’s what they were elected to do.
>>> Read more!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Sample Exam for High School Seniors

One of my perennial complaints against the school board is that the board has never established educational standards for the students, instead relinquishing that role to the state and the school administration. The result has been a predictable diminished level of expectations and a graduating class largely unprepared to pursue higher education or the most promising labor fields.

I have long argued the board must set its own standards and hold the administration accountable for meeting those standards. Furthermore, everyone, from the teachers, to the parents, to the students, should know exactly what those standards are. That means providing exhaustive study guides from which all exam questions are drawn so that there's no doubt of nor divergence from those standards.

Below is a list of sample questions that I would expect every student to know prior to graduation and, contrary to the state's standards, anything below 70% is a failing grade.

I doubt a majority of our high school seniors could properly answer most of the below questions but the question for the community is this - After spending 13 years and $200,000 per child, which of the below questions is outside what we should expect a graduating senior to know?


  1. Romeo and Juliet, Catcher in the Rye, and Huckleberry Finn are among the most revered and reviled works of literature in our nation's public schools. Choose one of the above works and write a 400-500 word persuasive essay arguing why it should be included in the school curriculum. Be sure to include quotations from the story and discuss the plot and central characters.
  1. Prove 4X^2 - 16XY + 16Y^2 + 2 is always greater than zero
  2. Provide the mathematical equation for a circle whose center is (5,5) and radius is 5.
  3. A mutual fund advertises “An average 8% annual return over the past five years”. If the fund returned 8% each year, how much would $10,000 have earned over the five years?
  4. The actual track record of the fund for each of the five years was 15%, 25%, 10%, -40%, and 30%. Plus the fund has an annual 2% management fee. How much would a $10,000 investment have returned over the past five years?
  5. 5 years ago, a bank offered a 5-year CD with a 2.2% annual interest rate. Which would have been the better investment?
  1. What is the chemical equation for photosynthesis?
  2. A police car's siren operates at 300hz. The patrol car is traveling at 95 mph to catch a car traveling 80 mph. What is the siren frequency the pursued driver would actually hear?
  3. What is positive feedback? Where is it found in nature? Why is it rare? Why is it central to man-made global warming theory?
American History
  1. Why was George Washington unanimously elected to be the nation's first president? Discuss his personal qualifications, the political considerations, and both the needs and fears of a strong presidency.
  2. Per capita, the Civil War was our nation's bloodiest. Why was it so important to Abraham Lincoln to preserve the union?
  3. Of America's 44 presidents, a few are noted as having significantly transformed the role of the presidency. Pick a president who significantly transformed the presidency and discuss how he changed the office.
  1. What is a government of enumerated powers? Name three things, excluding civil violations, that the federal government cannot do.
  2. What is the constitutional question regarding the individual mandate in the recent healthcare reform legislation?
  3. The 14th amendment states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States”. When adopted, did the 14th Amendment protect against sex discrimination? Does it now? Discuss.
  1. What is the Laffer Curve? Why is it a source of disagreement in Congressional Budget Office projections?
  2. The Federal Reserve is trying to stimulate the economy and prevent deflation by lowering interest rates and increasing the money supply. How would that stimulate the economy? What is the fear of deflation?
  3. Critics have complained the Federal Reserve's actions will lead to inflation. How might that happen and why is it a concern?
World History
  1. How is Western Civilization different from other civilizations? Compare and contrast to at least one other civilization.
  2. Discuss the differences between the American Revolution and the French Revolution, including what sparked the revolutions, what were the underlying philosophies, and how they were effectuated.
  3. On December 7th, 1941, a “Day of Infamy”, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt responded by sending most of the armed forces to fight Germany. Why?
Foreign Language
  1. Translate Goldilocks and the Three Bears into a foreign language.
  1. Most of the families in a small town earn their livelihoods at a local profitable factory. One day, the owner, a local businessman, decides to close the factory and move operations oversees where labor is cheaper. Would it be ethical for the townspeople to levy a “millionaire's tax”, which would only impact the businessman, to support the newly unemployed? Discuss.
  2. A hospital's nurses feel they are not being fairly compensated and that management is not negotiating with them in good faith. Would it be ethical for them to strike? Discuss.
>>> Read more!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Same Script, Same Characters at Town Hall

Last month, I wrote the following: “The township’s ‘secret plan’ is to offset [future] spending increases with new development through PILOT programs.”

Sure enough, last week Aberdeen Township posted an RFQ for an “Attorney experienced in Pilot Agreements”. And, as predicted, the town council will use the PILOT programs to hoard the lion’s share of projected revenue from all major new developments, such as the new housing projects on County Road and Rt. 34. The town council will use the new funds to mask increased spending and crow about holding down taxes while the school district is burdened with integrating and educating the influx of new students.

Next to appear will be the reappointments of Aberdeen’s three stooges –

Town Attorney Dan McCarthy – Infamously lied to the town council and over a 100 residents at a packed public meeting that Aberdeen would lose its COAH certification in two days if the council did not approve unwanted housing development despite knowing Aberdeen wasn’t even on COAH’s agenda for that month.

Town Planning/Zoning Board Attorney, Michael Leckstein – First denied residents the right to make comments at a public meeting. Then threatened to use “police force” against those residents who asserted their right to speak.

Town Planner Richard Coppola – He was against the COAH housing before he was for it.

These three stooges kept telling us that we had no choice but to accept a massive COAH development on County Rd. and an accompanying development on Rt. 34, that it was a done deal, and the town council would be acting irresponsibly if it did not approve the development.

Shortly thereafter, the developer contacted the Cliffwood Housing Association, negotiated a smaller development, and the town council quickly claimed credit.

These three stooges will all be reappointed. After all, pay-to-play, patronage, and political corruption has its privileges.

Then there’s Tom Fallon, our eternal auditor, who never ever warns the township it’s burning through all its reserves. His father, a fellow CPA with whom Tom worked, was a bigwig in the Monmouth County Democratic Party until he went to jail for bribing a public official.

Talking about jailbirds, let’s not forget our famed transit village developer, William Bocra, who sat in prison for bribing an IRS official. Or former Aberdeen Forge developer, Anthony Spalliero, also convicted of bribing a public official, who died last month.

(Yes, our town does have a penchant for felons and their families. It’s no surprise given the council’s willingness to skirt the law – See the last campaign where a majority of the council conspired to circumvent campaign disclosure rules or just think of retired policeman Vincent Vinci.)

Of course, the trophy goes to CME Engineering, a firm that bills for nothing but time yet scores over a million dollars a year in a small town of 6,000 homes and a smattering of businesses. Not that CME hasn’t earned it. Without its generous support, the Aberdeen Democrats may not have been able to maintain monolithic control of the council for the past decade.

This dreary show repeats itself every year and gets more expensive with each showing. The public knows it, hates it, but believes that’s the cost of living in America.

Not so. It’s just the cost of living in Aberdeen.
>>> Read more!