Brick officials and the union representing township police officers and some staff members have agreed on a four-year pact that includes annual salary increases and a pledge that employees will freeze their current levels of contributions toward their healthcare coverage.
Overall, the salary and wage line item will rise by 3 percent each year for four years. From that figure, officers will receive 2.5 percent salary increases each year (in addition to regular step increases as determined by a collective bargaining agreement). The remaining 0.5 percent will go toward a freeze in employee contributions toward their healthcare premiums.
Premiums are expected to rise, however the union – PBA Local 230 – was able to negotiate a freeze of the portion employees must pay. The exception, said Joanne Bergin, the township’s business administrator, is when an officer reaches a new step or is promoted. In that case, the officer would adhere to the contribution level pursuant to his or her new salary.
“The healthcare contribution is frozen in their current tier,” said Bergin. “If a salary increase occurs and moves them into another contribution [level], they move.”
Officers’ contributions will remain tied to the now-expired Chapter 78 law which mandated contributions to healthcare premiums based on the type of coverage selected by the employee as well as the employee’s salary. Brick employees’ healthcare premiums, for family coverage, are estimated at market value to exceed $30,000 per year, however the township is self-insured and medical costs are paid directly by the township to physicians and hospitals through a third party administrator – historically, Horizon Blue Cross-Blue Shield. The freeze didn’t sit well with resident Vic Fanelli, who frequently criticizes the cost of benefits provided to public employees.
“People are leaving in droves, and they’re going to continue leaving in droves,” said Fanelli, referencing the cost of living in New Jersey. “It’s not fair to the people who live here, especially those on fixed incomes, to have to pay for [employees’] increases as well as their own.”
Bergin said the same freeze was included in contracts with three other bargaining units. In some communities – notably in school districts, including Toms River – unions have begun to request reduced contributions toward their healthcare coverage since Chapter 78, passed under the administration of former Gov. Chris Christie, sunset. When the law expired, unions regained the right to negotiate their contribution levels.
Many police officers were on hand at Tuesday night’s township council meeting, however none spoke publicly. The new contract was approved unanimously by the council.
Bergin said the salary increases were already included in this year’s operating budget and will not result in any additional tax increases.