Thursday, December 9, 2010
Last updated: Thursday December 9, 2010, 1:26 AM
BY JOHN ESCOBAR
Northern Valley Suburbanite
This is in response to the outlandish lies being told by the Englewood “FAST” group.
From 1998 to 2007, local governments were given an unprecedented and lucrative opportunity to skip, reduce and defer their required payments into the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS). At the height of the Pension Holiday from 2001 to 2004, local governments contributed only 12 percent of their required PFRS pension contributions. When the time came for municipalities to own up to their responsibility, they began to cry poverty claiming that it was the greedy public worker that was at fault, not their own fiscal irresponsibility.
As a New Jersey Firefighter, I have never received a pension holiday. The “FAST” group would lead you to believe that our pension is free money. However, 8.5 percent of every paycheck has been deducted every two weeks since I was hired and put towards pension obligations. The fact that New Jersey’s governors stole our pension money and used it for everything except our retirement benefits is criminal.
In response to the “FAST” group’s assessment of Police and Fire salaries in Englewood, Bergen County is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. The median home price is close to $410,000. Shouldn’t I have the opportunity to live in the county in which I work? Even with that being said, the group is grossly overestimating our compensation. Speaking for myself, if I retired with 20 years on the department, my pension would be about $45,000 a year with no medical insurance and no Social Security benefits (Firefighters in New Jersey are not entitled to Social Security).
Being that the median income for a Bergen County resident is over $82,000, the average Social Security benefit for a Bergen County resident would be over $24,000 a year upon retirement. If you subtract that from my $45,000, it leaves me with $21,000 over that of the average resident. Now factor in over $150,000 that has been deducted from my check in pension contributions over 20 years that is supposed to be invested.
It is not that “exorbitant” anymore, is it? Or should only Hedge Fund managers be allowed to get a return on their investment? As far as the ridiculous $3.5 million pension that they claim I get, yes, I would finally get that in total on my 132nd birthday. Since the average New Jersey firefighter dies at 75 years of age that would be highly unlikely.
As far as the 45 sick days a year that I supposedly receive, I would like the “FAST” group to show me where they are getting their information. If that were true, Englewood owes me 330 sick days. If the overtime budget bothers them, they should urge the Mayor and Council to hire more firefighters. We respond to emergencies with an eight-man minimum manpower. That means if your house catches fire, eight firefighters are responding in total, including three drivers. Since the “FAST” group likes to compare us to Teaneck, Teaneck responds with 15 firefighters. Hackensack responds with 18. You cannot have your cake and eat it, too. If they want overtime to decrease, they need to give us the proper staffing so we can operate safely. The shift work and overtime duties come at a price not only to the residents, but to our families as well. We miss Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas mornings, children’s sporting events, dance recitals, etc. to serve the community. Did the “FAST” group ever think maybe the reason their property taxes are high is because the combined property value of their seven homes is over $22 million?
As far as the “FAST” group’s unbelievable statement that they are the “risk takers,” I have looked at countless lists of riskiest professions. I have not seen hedge fund manager, attorney, or real estate mogul on any them. I have seen Police and Firefighter consistently at the top. In fact, since they are into quoting polls, according to a recent Bloomberg Poll, 88 percent of Americans blame the worst recession in over 70 years on the irresponsibility and recklessness of Wall Street and their “risk taking.”
In 2010, 75 Firefighters and 149 Police Officers have been killed in the line of duty nationwide. I am not going to stand on the sidelines and let seven wealthy individuals from the East Hill that comprise the “FAST” group disrespect their honor. I cannot remember the last hedge fund manager that was killed in the line of duty, however, I can name a few that went to prison for deceiving the public and ruining lives.
To the good people of Englewood, I leave you with this: It has been and will continue to be a pleasure to serve you. You should be very concerned about who the Mayor and Council are listening to concerning budget cuts. It will compromise your safety and affect your children’s education. The “FAST” group would not mind decimating the public school budget because they do not send their children to Englewood Public schools. Their children are going to the best private schools money can buy.
For seemingly educated individuals, it is surprising that the “FAST” group would be so willing to provide you with so much misinformation. The fact is, including salaries and benefits the average family in Englewood pays $1.96 a day for full Fire and EMS protection. The “FAST” group’s combined yearly property tax bill is over $455,000, which means that 1 percent of their property taxes go towards fire protection and salaries. Ask them to provide their data to back up their claims. To the “FAST” group: As a Bergen County homeowner, I understand the concern over high property taxes, however cuts to the fire dept will have minimal impact on your property tax bill. However it will have a significant impact on the safety and level of service you receive. I suggest you educate yourselves on the importance of public safety and it’s true operating costs before you continue your quest of trying to turn the residents against us.
John Escobar is an Englewood firefighter.