Between a Rockaway and a Hard Place

One of the more prevalent practices of government is paying employees for not working, or more accurately, for sick and vacation time they never took.

That happens throughout the state and in many cases, is permissible.

But not always.

The New Jersey Comptroller’s Office has just discovered after an audit that Rockaway Township “allowed employee leave payments of $167,093 in violation of state law or township policy.”

That was just one of the problems the audit found. Others had to do with not properly obtaining health insurance coverage and spending twice for some employee prescription coverage, thereby costing taxpayers about $4.5 million over three years.

The audit detailed the problem and also came up with this stunning discovery.

The aforementioned $167,000 that was improperly spent was just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The audit also found that township practices allowed “five senior police employees, including the police chief, (to) have accumulated $1.17 million in unused holiday-related vacation leave, an average of approximately $234,000 per employee.”

The particulars of Rockaway Township aside, none of this is new.

Chris Christie knew that.

He tried to cap massive payments to retiring employees – something he called “boat checks” – with some success.

The Legislature did adopt a law in 2010 capping these payments for employees at $15,000 per worker, but that was only for new hires.

However, as the recent audit suggests, laws and regulations may not mean much if municipal officials ignore them.

What’s going on?

You would think town officials would be under pressure to keep property taxes low, so wouldn’t that prompt them to rein in unjust spending? Paying retiring employees for vacation time they did not take eight years ago certainly seems unjust to any reasonable person.

That may be generally true, but something else frequently goes on. That “something else” is that many municipal officials see their employees as part of the “same team,”

That may not sound bad, but such familiarity very often encourages officials to overlook, or just not look too closely at, such payments. That’s just reality.

How to stop it?

The obvious way is for elected officials to stop it themselves. But to do that, you need officials who are not part of the team, or “the club” running the show. This can be a political club, of course, but make no mistake, winking at terminal leave payments is a bipartisan endeavor. It happens in Democratic Hudson County and as we see, in Republican Morris County.

This will only end if voters elect enough officials to their local governing bodies who care about genuine reform as opposed to maintaining the status quo.

Easier said than done.

Unless that happens, we must always remember a 2020 report on the practice by the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation. Its title was:

“The Beat Goes On And On.”

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7 responses to “Between a Rockaway and a Hard Place”

  1. But if they take the vacation time throughout their careers, the town is paying someone on overtime to cover that vacation. It’s either pay as you go or pay at the end. Either way it’s the towns responsibility to pay for that employees vacation time.

  2. Very true. The fact is that our elected officials are corrupt. Republican or Democrat, it makes no difference. It’s one big happy family. They are all the same.

  3. I live in Rockway, NJ. That money needs to be recovered. If it is recovered as an additional taxation on current employees, the process would correct itself overnight.

  4. It is truly disturbing if not disgusting that the Mayor along with his elected crew seem blind to the fact that the bottom line here is called theft of taxpayers money, plain and simple. So here we are most homeowners in the township paying well over $12,000 a year in real state taxes for it to be given away to their buddies and friends who work alongside them in the township.
    Our taxes keep going up and up now we certainly know why! Shame on the past and current administration that have condoned this type of expenditures without trying to put at end to them.
    When you have things like that going on usually corruption is not too far behind.

  5. If you don’t use all your accrued time it should be cashed out at that current pay level at the end of that fiscal year. The money shouldn’t be doled out in one lump some at the end.

  6. As one commenter put it eloquently, town employees’ accrued time needs to be paid out at the end of each year like they do in the real corporate world. Lump sum at the end of one’s career should not be allowed. This is not only a fraud on the town, but a fraud on the taxpayers.

    If the town cannot or will not correct this deficiency, voters and taxpayers should jam the town council meetings and demand that the council and mayor fix the problem, or make a motion to demand the unincorporation of the town, since the town is not working properly for the taxpayers, and needs to be disbanded.

  7. 4.5 million wasted over 3 years, Township population is roughly 26,000.
    I want my $57 dollars back! I’ll take a check, cash or money order.

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