The three dozen city employees, who retired in fiscal year 2016, cashed out $1.7 million in various leave time including sick, vacation, and terminal leave, according to municipal documents.
38 city employees, whose retirements were approved in fiscal year 2016 which ran from July 1st, 2015 through June 30th, 2016, received $1,701,762 in severance payments. 10 police and fire employees received $75,000 or more in severance pay after cashing out leave hours and terminal leave time.
Deputy police chief Danny Nichols received $132,114 when he retired on June 1st, 2016. He cashed out 752 leave hours for $63,099, 40 hours of personal time for $3,356, 6.5 hours of comp time for $545, and 720 hours of terminal leave for $60,414.
Nichols also received $4,699 from two-week holdback. Personnel director Abby Levenson did not respond to a call to explain the two-week holdback last week.
Similarly, battalion chief Thomas Behnke received $116,191 in severance pay after cashing in vacation and terminal leave time, according to city record.
Police sergeant Jose Arroyo received the third largest severance payment of $114,240. He cashed out 704 hours of leave time for $50,086, 53 hours of personal time for $2,348, 68.75 hours of comp time for $4,891, and 720 hours of terminal leave for $51,224, according to city records.
Arroyo also received $5,692 for two-week holdback pay.
The large severance payments are driven largely by terminal leave hours cashed out by the employees. Both on local and state levels there have been concerns about terminal leave and the burden it places on taxpayers.
“It’s part of their contract. We fought and advocated against it. They are the only group of employees to have that benefit, so it’s not equitable to other employees,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, chairman of the finance committee.
Under the previous police and fire contracts employees were allowed to cash out 720 hours of terminal leave time at retirement. However, the new police and fire contract has reduced that number to 500 for new public safety hires.
“Any reduction in terminal leave is a move in the right direction until the point we get down to zero,” said Morris.
“It simply is unacceptable and intolerable for taxpayers to continue to be burdened by these sorts of gold-plated, sky’s-the-limit payout packages for active and retiring public workers – especially when the cost of such arrangements can seriously erode local budgets, drive up property taxes and actually coincide with the layoffs of essential personnel, including police officers and firefighters,” read a report issued by the New Jersey Commission of Investigation in 2009.
The report titled, “The Beat Goes On: Waste and Abuse in Local Government Employee Compensation and Benefits” recommends the state eliminate terminal hours. The report was issued in December 2009. Almost seven years later, there has not been any legislative action to eliminate terminal leave time, said state officials.
“It’s outdated. I believe it was used at a time when compensation was very low as a way of supplementing retirement. Those conditions no longer exist,” said council president William McKoy. “Would I have liked to see a better number? Absolutely. Is this the number we have to live with? Yes it is.”
Morris said no arbitrator is going to allow total removal of terminal leave time. The city has incurred debt in the past several years to pay for large severance payments to police and fire employees.
Other employees, who do not receive the terminal hour benefit, cashed out sick and vacation days. Community Improvement director Kathy Easton, who retired on June 30th, 2015, received $42,544 in severance pay, according to city records.
The employees with $75,000 or more in severance pay are listed below:
Deputy police chief Danny Nichols, $132,114.
Battalion chief Thomas Behnke, $116,191.
Police lieutenant Jose Arroyo, $114,240.
Police officer Ronald Altman, $109,264.
Police sergeant Louis Esposito, $88,156.
Police officer Miguel Santiago, $78,360.
Police officer Jose Valentin, $77,652.
Police sergeant Anthony Trifari, $75,875.
Police officer Charles Cobb, $75,507.
Police officer Virginio Formentin, $75,102.