PSD director received raise before audit revealed deficit

IRVINGTON, NJ — Former Irvington Fire Director John Brown’s recent re-hiring as the deputy director of the township’s Public Safety Department during mandatory salary deferments and furloughs implemented by the Vauss administration has focused a spotlight on how the Public Safety Department is funded.

The budget cuts were intended to address a $3.25 million deficit from the Calendar Year 2015 Municipal Budget and the admission of $2.4 million in deficits in the 2016 and 2017 budgets. A 1.5 percent tax increase in the Calendar Year 2017 Municipal Budget was also implemented.

Last year Vauss gave a pay raise — unanimously approved by the Irvington Municipal Council on Nov. 10, 2016 — to Public Safety Department Director Tracy Bowers. Ordinance No. MC 3590 increased the salary for that position from a minimum of $145,000 to a maximum of $185,000, a change that went into effect Dec. 13, 2016.

Four months later, on April 4, finance director Faheem Ra’Oof sent a memo to business administrator Musa Malik and Wally Riglicki, an auditor hired to audit the township’s financial records, stating why the administration had to impose the salary deferments, layoffs and furloughs.

“As per my discussion with the auditor, as of Dec. 31, 2015, the township audit will reflect the following: Unanticipated increases for joint sewer charges, municipal debt service, deferred charges and pension costs that the township has no control over,” the memo said. “These increases are the result of state statute, regulatory control or debt service before the Vauss administration; and an over-expenditure noted in the 2015 audit, which was recently completed. The township of Irvington Audit Report will show that we have the following: Total current fund deferred charge of $5,163,924.44 and a total current fund surplus (fund balance) is $4,518,742.80 and excess of deferred charges over surplus, $645,181.64. However, the township has a fund surplus that we are legally prohibited from accessing, to cover the above two items.”

Ra’Oof said in the memo, “State of New Jersey statutory law does not allow surplus to be appropriated, when deferred charges exceed surplus.”

“In addition to the surplus identified above, the township also has a general capital surplus (fund balance) $3,785,000.56,” said Ra’Oof. “If the township were allowed to appropriate our surplus, it would result in no furloughs for 2017.”

Ra’Oof also stated the “over-expenditure noted in the 2015 audit” was due to health care costs, rather than overspending by the administration. This doesn’t account for Bowers’ retroactive salary increase. According to the township payroll information from 2014 to June 23, Bowers’ salary went from $66,923.04 to $195,360.52 in 2015, thanks to a lump sum payment of $131,946.19. This payroll information was obtained by resident Elouise McDaniel, who filed an Open Public Records Act information request with the Municipal Clerk’s Office. McDaniel is president of both the Irvington Joint Block Association and Nesbit Terrace Block Association.

In 2016, Bowers’ base salary was listed as $148,076.84, but he also received a $6,153.84 stipend and $40,615.35 in “other” funds for a total of $194,846.03, according to the OPRA payroll information. And those records show that, for the period between Jan. 6 to June 23, 2017, Bowers earned $92,403.28 in base salary, plus a $9,487.16 stipend, minus $3,153.80 in “other” funds, for a total of $98,736.64.

In November 2015, the council merged the former Irvington Fire and Police departments to create the new Public Safety Department, with corresponding director and deputy director posts for the Fire Division and Police Division.

Brown has been appointed deputy director for the Irvington Public Safety Department; he will be paid an undisclosed amount to serve as the fire specialist. However, fire Chief Antonio Gary, appointed in July 2015 by Vauss, is still on the job, running the Fire Division’s day-to-day operations.

Likewise, former police Chief Michael Chase was still on the job with the Police Department at the time of the merger. He filed a wrongful termination lawsuit he filed against the township that is still pending.

Vauss and the Municipal Council abolished the fire director’s job title and position Dec. 28, 2016, but not before the mayor temporarily took over as fire director, paying himself a $3,846.16 stipend to do so.

Malik filled in as the police director for six months before Bowers took over, for which he was paid a $23,076.96 stipend in addition to his $130,000 base salary. According to Vauss, Malik filling in saved Irvington $43,653.95.

“The township saved additional funds in pension contributions and health insurance and fringe benefits,” said Vauss on Monday, July 10. “Total savings for stipends vs. salaries equals $69,747.70 during a six-month period for the positions of acting police director and acting fire director. The savings would increase as the time for the stipend payment continued. (This) reflects tens of thousands of dollars (that) were saved during the acting period identified … vs. the amount which would have been paid through the replacement of personnel.”

Vauss said voting against Bowers’ salary increase would have been a mistake, one he’s glad the council did not make.

“The people’s taxes didn’t go up because of this. The employees got together and we closed the deficit, which is an amazing feat in itself, to get all these bargaining units to give money, all for the benefit of the taxpayers, because they don’t want the taxpayers’ taxes to go up; we don’t want the taxpayers taxes to (go up, so) we did it, because it benefits the residents,” said Vauss on Tuesday, Oct. 17. “You have deficits … you have to tighten your belt, make cutbacks and fix.

“The deficit was found because we’re checking the books. We have checks and balances. The extraordinary job that Tracy has done; he has had other offers for a lot more money and he decided to stay in his hometown town. So far, we already have less homicides than last year and if, this holds up, we’ll be blown away. This was the second summer in a row that we’ve had zero homicides. Nobody has gotten killed during the summer.”