Mayors looking for relief

 

TRENTON – State League of Municipalities Executive Director Bill Dressel said Monday his organization supports the legislature’s efforts to reform pension and health benefits.

Dressel, who was flanked by mayors desperate for relief from rising costs, described the legislation as the best way “to defuse a ticking time bomb.”

And though the league supports the major provisions in the bill, Dressel suggested some amendments to the bill, such as lifting the cost-of-living adjustment freezes the bill calls for.

Linden Mayor Richard Gerbounka, a retired police officer, said the bill will affect him personally because the bill will end cost of living adjustments. However, he said it’s “a small price to pay” since it will enable future public employees to receive their pension.  

Collingswood Mayor Jim Malay said pension and health costs increased from $150,000 to $1.6 million over a six-year period.

Orange Mayor Eldridge Hawkins supports the legislation, saying it will prevent towns from cutting services and laying off employees.

“Without the reform, our hands are tied,” he said. “There’s no magic wand. It’s several things working in tandem with one another. The system in its present form is not sustainable.”

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-12) of Little Silver, said the legislation “resets the bar” since the contributions will bring it closer to what private sector employees pay for health insurance.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), who was initially reticent about the bill but eventually signed on, blamed “short-sighted thinking” that led the state to the massive deficits in health care and pensions.

As she spoke, audience members yelled out “tax the rich” and “millionaire’s tax.”    

Mayors looking for relief