N.J. lawmakers urged to continue 2% salary cap in arbitrated police, fire deals

New Jersey State Capitol building in Trenton. (Alan Tu/WHYY)

New Jersey State Capitol building in Trenton. (Alan Tu/WHYY)

City and county officials in New Jersey are asking the state Legislature to maintain a limit on salary increases when arbitrators settle police and firefighters contracts. That limit — currently at 2 percent — expires at the end of this year.

Hunterdon County Freeholder John King said the cap has proved to be a valuable tool.

“Before the 2 percent cap, arbitrators routinely awarded contracts that averaged 5 percent or better,” he said. “And we’re concerned that leaving contractual disputes to the discretion of a third party will once again lead to excessive awards that do not fall within the 2 percent restriction on local government spending.”

If the cap were not extended, East Rutherford Mayor Jim Cassella said, municipal officials could have to make some tough choices.

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“You have to reduce services in another area, whatever that area is. Or reduce police or fire manpower. That’s the bottom line,” Cassella said. “You either have to not hire or possibly lay off because you will not have enough money to pay them.”

Democratic leaders in the state Legislature say they want to wait for a task force report before deciding whether to make the cap permanent.

Mike Darcy with the New Jersey League of Municipalities said local officials want it done now.

“We know what the impact is. The report will only reinforce what we already know. And the timing of getting this done before the expiration of the cap is very important,” Darcy said. “Municipal budgets, county budgets, have to be prepared before that deadline happens.”

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