Home Mantua News Mantua-Wenonah police merger gets complicated, moves forward still

Mantua-Wenonah police merger gets complicated, moves forward still

Township committee says no adjustments to the budget have been made yet

As of right now, the police merger between the Borough of Wenonah and Mantua Township is moving forward, officials said. However, Benjamin Telsey, a Gloucester County Superior Court judge, earlier this month ruled the original agreement between Wenonah and Mantua in violation of the Shared Services Act.

The judge came to this conclusion after PBA Local 122 filed a lawsuit on behalf of the five Wenonah police officers.

Telsey stated that while Wenonah has the power to disband the borough’s police force, under the Shared Services Act, Mantua must hire all five Wenonah police officers, while also recognizing the employment rights and seniority of those officers.

During the May 21 Mantua Township Committee meeting, the committee was met with multiple inquiries from the public. The main question: How will the judge’s ruling affect the finances of the original agreement?

Jennica Bileci, township business administrator, said, “In terms of the cost of the proposal, nothing has changed. The only effect the order from the judge has had on the entire merger is the amount of officers that we will be able to fund. The original budget did not account for the amount of officers we would have to merge into our current police department. So, again that will be the determining factor as to how we accept employment and how we move forward.”

The proposed municipal budget sets up a zero percent tax increase for residents. In a previous interview, Bileci stated the original shared services agreement had much to do with the flat rate. The public hearing for the $14 million proposed budget is set for 6 p.m., June 18.

The initial document is 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.

However, Mantua’s hiring responsibilities were slim then compared to what they are now.

As previously reported, Bileci explained the original agreement would see Mantua hire two officers to compensate for the extra coverage area. However, Bileci stated that while the township would prefer to hire Wenonah officers, it was not bound to it.

Now, if the agreement is to continue, the township must add an additional five officers to a police force made up of 30 individuals. Included in that 30 is the patrol, records, detective and administrative bureaus.

In addition, the township passed an ordinance on May 21 stating the new agreement “will be compliant with state statute specifically regarding the ‘preservation of seniority, tenure, and pension rights for law enforcement officer’ under the Shared Services Act.” The resolution goes further, adding the five-year agreement will be amended to a 10-year agreement.

According to Wenonah’s 2017 adopted municipal budget, the borough spent $550,000 on police department salaries and wages in 2017. It is unclear at this point if all Wenonah officers will want to take up employment in Mantua.

Bileci also stated during the meeting, “We have not requested any additional funding from the borough of Wenonah at this point.”

A status conference between both parties and the judge was scheduled for May 30 concerning this lawsuit. Check www.mantuasun.com for updates.

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