Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson will introduce the 2023 county budget on March 21. In addition to providing a 2-cent tax rate decrease for taxpayers, the budget ensures funding is available for employee benefits and incentives.
“I’m extremely proud of this budget and the fact we can reduce our tax rate to help residents keep a little more in their own pockets,” Levinson said in a statement. “It’s important that we also take care of our workforce and continue to help them make ends meet as they are on the frontlines providing the vast variety of services on which our residents depend.”
Several Atlantic County union employees recently attended a county commissioners meeting to complain about low wages.
What some of those employees may not have known was that the county is currently in salary negotiations with several of its 23 bargaining unions, including the Teamsters.
The county maintains its policy of not discussing salaries and contract conditions in public, therefore many of the Teamster members who spoke at the meeting may have been uninformed of the benefits available for inclusion in their new contracts.
All union negotiations within the last several years have included offers by the county to raise starting salaries. The county has agreed to increase contracts in exchange for members accepting a 2030 health benefits plan that reduces their cost share contributions to provide more take-home pay.
Each employee is offered a $400 incentive to move to that plan. The benefit to the county is a reduction in its overall health benefit line item.
Annual salaries for both union members and management average $56,000. Additionally, employees receive a benefits package valued at $36,000 for a family of four.
Employees contribute a graduated percentage of that cost based on their salary. Benefits include paid holidays, sick time, health benefits and a pension.
Levinson noted the county is also cognizant that as an employee’s salary increases so may their cost share contribution for health benefits.
“We don’t want to give them an increase that will be negated by higher insurance costs. What’s the advantage in that? We want to provide more money in their paychecks,” he said.
Another concern is the need for the county to meet the state-mandated 2 percent annual cap on budget increases.
With steadily rising costs, including a 24 percent increase in state health benefits program costs, and the highest inflation in 40 years, the county, like many local governments, has had some difficulty.
But because the Central Municipal Court was a first-time shared service, the state granted the county a waiver for some of those costs which allowed the county to meet the 2 percent cap without having to implement severe cuts or layoffs.
The Teamsters contract expired on December 31. Its members will also now be able to negotiate these same benefits – increased starting salaries and wages, the 2030 health plan, and the $400 incentive. The 2023 proposed budget includes funding to meet all these conditions.
“We live in challenging times, but county government’s goal is to provide essential services in a cost-effective and efficient manner,” Levinson said. “The fact that we’ve been able to do that while initiating measures to help our workforce and achieving a tax rate decrease for taxpayers is extremely gratifying.”