Police add staff after budget, contract approved

Sunday Times Newspapers

TRENTON — City officials lifted a hiring freeze last week and approved the hiring of three police officers after adjustments were made to public safety pensions.

City Administrator Jim Wagner said that two vacancies were created with recent retirements, and that last month’s approved budget allowed the city to hire a third officer in an effort to reduce overtime.

“We replaced the two positions and, hopefully, will reduce overtime costs and better police the community,” Wagner said. “The third officer will work when we have overtime issues.”

The city council on Monday approved the positions, along with the hiring of an assistant engineer and part-time clerical worker at the Waste Water Treatment Plant.

Public safety – police and fire – represent about half of the municipal payroll, Wagner said, with more than 60 positions out of the 130 city employees. The three new hires will bring the police department roster up to 31, short of the peak 52 last seen 10 years ago.

Although short of desired numbers, Trenton Police Chief James Nardone said the recent concessions and hiring news may be a sign that the worst of the economic storm is over.

“It’s a positive thing for the city and the police department,” Nardone said. “I’m satisfied that we have an agreement. I hope we have the opportunity to hire more.”

The contract approved last week between the city and police union employees revised the pension plan implemented in 1995, a defined contribution plan that will now work similar to a 401K. Wagner said that other concessions included a reduction in starting salary, sick time availability and longevity entitlements.

Officers will now pay 20 percent of health-care costs, which coupled with reduced overtime will allow the city to staff the department without creating a general fund deficit.

“The administration and council’s directives made public safety priority No. 1,” Wagner said. “Maintaining that remains the number one priority even in difficult financial times.”