Tensions high as South Toms River Police hit salary impasse with Borough Administration
Out of a contract since January 1, 2021, the South Toms River Police PBA is at a stalemate with STR Borough officials over how much those who work in the department are being paid and will be paid.
Now 10-months without a contract, the PBA said that they've been in negotiations with the borough for over a year and their goal remains the same as they seek fair and competitive wages for their members to prevent any more of an exodus.
South Toms River PBA 368 said in their statement that the reason 9 officers have left the department over the last few years and 3 more full-time officers are seeking employment with another police department right now is because of the "disparity of salary."
"Most recently, specifically in the last 5 years, we have lost full time officers to Beachwood PD, Berkeley PD, and Lacey PD who all pay significantly higher than STR Neighboring towns that are a similar size to STR such as Beachwood, Pine Beach, and Ocean Gate all pay their officers significantly higher than STR," South Toms River Patrol Officer and member of PBA 368, Garrett Stratton, tells Townsquare Media News.
The South Toms River Police Department currently has 12 members including Chief William Kosh followed by 1 Lieutenant, 2 Sergeants, 1 Detective-Sergeant and 6 patrol officers.
Officer Stratton tells Townsquare Media News that the department is also short of 2-patrol officers and at the moment have Class-II officers working full-time hours to help cover the spots with one Class-III officer working in the elementary school.
With 12 currently in the department and the fear of losing three full-time officers by this time next year, the PBA said that they are taking their fight to arbitration.
"There are currently no negotiations or discussions going on. The borough believes our demands (for a reasonable salary/compensation) are too high and outrageous and thus refuse to negotiate with us any longer," Stratton said. "The PBA has officially filed for arbitration this week. The PBA would like to stress that it’s not only retention that we are having a problem with, but it is also attraction. STRPD has had a full time position open for over 1.5 years and have had 0 qualified applicants."
The PBA's goal is not a small increase in pay but instead a reworking of the salaries for those in the department.
"The PBA is currently looking to re-structure the entire contract, having a percentage raise would not put us even close to what surrounding towns pay," Stratton said.
In their posted statement, the South Toms River PBA 368, said that "the South Toms River Police Department currently offers the SECOND lowest paying starting salary for a police officer, and the THIRD lowest top pay salary for a police officer out of the THIRTY FOUR police departments in Ocean County alone. STRPD wants to retain its experienced officers to provide the best quality of services for the residents of Borough of South Toms River."
Officer Stratton directs attention to police contracts for departments of nearby Ocean County boroughs that have a similar size population: Beachwood, Pine Beach and Ocean Gate.
All four towns, Stratton explains also "share the same radio channel and work closely together."
The Borough Administration in South Toms River has provided a statement to Townsquare Media News in response to the current salary negotiations:
"The recent chicken little diatribe is an exaggeration meant to manipulate an upcoming election to obtain leverage for unreasonable, unfair demands which will burden our taxpayers.
The fact is that after several months of negotiations the PBA brought in a lawyer who decided to add a laundry list of new items just to frustrate the entire negotiations.
Before that, both sides were moving forward. The PBA demands salary increases that would alone total $604,484 = 79.44% increase-over the term of the contract.
The PBA also demands reducing healthcare insurance contributions to ZERO. That’s another $200,000 in costs to the Borough for a total over $800,000 per year; and almost $1million per year for the next four years.
Those are only two of the laundry list of items the PBA demands the Borough provide to them.
Our taxpayers who have employer provided health insurance don’t receive the Cadillac plan coverage that has been continuously provided to our police for decades.
And NONE of the other police departments referenced by the PBA offer healthcare at ZERO contributions.
The PBA attempts to justify its positions by comparing salaries paid by our Borough to communities like Toms River: that’s completely misleading and unfair.
Toms River has a $134 million budget as compared to the $5.5 million overall budget of South Toms River. Toms River PD serves over 90,000 residents, compared to South Toms River with a population of under 5,000.
From a brand new Police Department building, to creating a K-9 Department, to fully funding an Officer at the Elementary School; which many schools will not fully fund, in addition to creating the Alternate hiring process to expand the diversity of our workforce - the Borough Officials and Administration have been making sure our community is properly served in a balanced, fiscally responsible way.
We hope to move forward in a reasonable manner and setting for negotiations; and one not based on biased hype."