Judge states Mantua must hire all Wenonah officers if shared services agreement is to continue

Bump in the road could cause Mantua to revamp budget

Taking over policing of the Borough of Wenonah is proving to be a difficult task.

Despite Mantua passing a resolution to do so beginning June 1, and the Wenonah Council moving to disband its police force, a lawsuit filed by PBA Local 122 on behalf of the five Wenonah police officers is complicating the process.

Both parties met in a Gloucester County court on May 11, and, according to the union’s legal representative, a judge found that while Wenonah has the power to diminish its police department, the agreement reached between the parties for shared services must include a provision that guarantees the hiring of all five Wenonah police officers, while also recognizing the employment rights of those officers. The current agreement does not include this provision.

Prior to the judge’s ruling, Jennica Bileci, Mantua Township business administrator, explained that the township planned to take on two officers to “maintain services,” she said. However, while Bileci said the township would prefer to hire Wenonah officers, in the original agreement, it is not a requirement.

The union’s counsel indicated Mantua would have complete authority to lay off officers, but would have to do so in reverse order of seniority.

The small borough of Wenonah spends, on average, $1 million annually of a less than $3 million budget on its police force, according to John Dominy, the borough’s mayor.

The parties are to meet again with the judge for a status conference on May 29.

A potential withdrawal from the shared services agreement could have adverse effects on the township’s proposed $14 million budget, a budget that currently offers residents a zero percent increase in local taxes.

“The revenue absolutely affects the taxpayers,” Bileci said.

Township officials link the shared services agreement as part of the reason for the potential flat tax rate. Based on a five-year agreement, Wenonah would pay Mantua approximately $300,000 for 2018 policing services and $550,000 the following year, increasing slightly each year until the final year, 2023.

The additional revenue from Wenonah was set to keep taxes down and offset township dues, Bileci explained.

Currently, Mantua spends approximately $3 million a year on policing.

Residents are able to view the proposed budget at the municipal building leading up to the public hearing set for 6 p.m., June 18.

This is a developing story.