If you think public school teachers are overpaid, The Record reports that the award should go to New Jersey police officers, whose average annual salary in 2008 was nearly $80,000, 25 percent more than school employees and nearly double the average public employee, who made $41,267 that year.
In Englewood, for example, the average income for police officers in 2009 was a whopping $143,268. With a base salary of $113,684, overtime of $20,593 and nearly $9,000 in off duty income guarding utility sites paid for by the utility company, police officers' compensation puts them well above the income of the taxpayers who pay their salaries.The one square mile borough of Rochelle Park (Bergen County), for example, paid police officers an average salary of $126,828 last year-the highest in the state-and double the average household income of the community's taxpayers. In Bergen County, the average police officer salary for 2009 was $103,649.
One police union official said housing is expensive in Bergen County and therefore his members need high salaries to live in the community. Why isn't renting an option? Where is it written that taxpayers have to underwrite police officers' housing wants? Living in a comfortable apartment is good enough for many taxpayers. It should be good enough for most young and middle-aged police officers.
Police officers are not to blame for these outrageous salaries. Local officials and arbitrators are responsible for base salaries increasing 10 percent per year for the first five years of service and then reaching six figures for officers who reach 10 years of service in Bergen County and 16 years in Passaic County.
In other words, local officials have been poor stewards of the public's money. They have failed miserably in providing quality services and keeping taxes at reasonable levels over the years.
Property taxes reflect the cost of local government and public schools. In other words, we know what police departments and schools cost taxpayers but what are they worth to taxpayers? The answer is as long as government provides these services the salaries and wages of police officers and teachers will reflect the "political muscle' of their unions, not their "market value."
Privatizing education is possible. See my last column. The more challenging privatizing effort would be to make policing a community nongovernmental activity. It can be done. (More about privatizing community protection in an upcoming column.)
Let's face it. Police officers in the suburbs do three things: write up accident reports, investigate a crime scene and give out speeding and other tickets. In the suburbs most police officers spend a whole career without firing their firearm let alone drawing it out for their holsters.
That's why Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak's statement that police are in a "special category' because of "the hazards of their work" is disingenuous. Even if Drewniak's statement is true, which it isn't, Governor Christie has asked teachers and other school personnel to accept a wage freeze next year, but he has not asked police personnel for any "shared sacrifice." Shared sacrifice means that all government employees should forgo some income to help out the beleaguered taxpayers in this fiscal crisis.
Given the salaries of police officers around the state and especially in northern New Jersey, a three to five year salary freeze is called for. New Jersey taxpayers need a break from the sky high costs of government.
Murray Sabrin is professor of finance at Ramapo College. He was the Libertarian Party nominee for governor in 1997 and a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2000 and 2008. Check www.MurraySabrin.com for more of his writings.