More than a decade has passed since Secaucus last elected a woman to its Town Council.
But on Jan. 1, Harmon Cove resident Susan Pirro was sworn in as the newest 3rd Ward council representative, and this Tuesday she will join the governing body as it holds its first public meeting of the new year.
Pirro was sworn in alongside returning councilmen Gary Jeffas, who represents the 1st Ward, and James Clancy, who represents the 2nd Ward. All three won decisive victories in November running as Independent candidates backed by Independent Mayor Michael Gonnelli.
At their swearing in ceremony the trio said they are now prepared to address a host of ongoing financial issues facing Secaucus and its taxpayers.
“Our primary focus will be to conserve money again.” – James Clancy
Many of these issues are holdovers from 2010, when Mayor Gonnelli and three other allied Independent councilmen took control of the governing body, and 2011 could bring major changes at the Secaucus Day Care Center, the Recreation Center, and in health care services.
“Just as you saw last year, our primary focus will be to conserve money again,” said Clancy after his inauguration. “We continue to look at the Recreation Center. We’re looking at the Day Care because of the losses that we’re taking. Those are our two primary issues right now.”
The Recreation Center has lost approximately $500,000 annually since it opened in December 2008, while the Day Care Center lost more than $105,000 last year.
When the Gonnelli administration took office a year ago, the governing body stated that 2010 would be a make-or-break year for the Recreation Center, a year when the town would try to aggressively increase membership and raise revenue. If steep financial losses at the facility can’t be curbed, the administration said it will consider doing away with the membership-based health club business model currently in place at the Recreation Center, and will consider opening up membership for a nominal fee.
The town is also trying to negotiate an agreement to remove the Day Care Center from the municipal books, the mayor said recently, although details of the deal have not been publicly released.
Clancy said the council had a planned “work session” meeting scheduled for Jan. 5 to discuss these two facilities.
Labor negotiations in the fall
“The main priority in the coming year is going to be the upcoming contract negotiations with our collective bargaining units,” Jeffas pointed out. “Health care is going to be a huge issue within those negotiations.”
Roughly 250 full-time employees – including Secaucus police officers, public works employees, clerical workers, and department heads – are currently covered by labor contracts that are set to expire Dec. 31, 2011. The town will begin contract negotiations with about five different collective bargaining units in September, according to Town Administrator David Drumeler.
Under collective bargaining reform pushed last year by Gov. Christopher Christie, total annual wage increases can’t exceed 2 percent across the board, and public employees must contribute at least 1.5 percent to their health insurance coverage.
But Secaucus could try to get additional cost savings from employees by encouraging them to sign up for Preferred Provider Organizations, which are cheaper than other health care plans, accept different co-pays, or offer some employees a self-insurance option.
Cost savings throughout the municipal budget, Pirro stated, might enable the town to improve and possibly increase public services to residents.
“There are very challenging economic times,” she said. “But wherever we can offer services at lower costs, that’s where we should concentrate our energies. Fiscal responsibility is the key. Working with the North Hudson Community Action Corporation (NHCAC), the mayor would like to offer a free and reduced-cost health clinic in town, at 1 Centre Ave. But we’ll only be able to offer and expand great services if we continue the fiscal reforms the administration started last year.”
She added that municipal department heads must also be held accountable for costs and spending within their departments.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.