Through Lampitt, Cherry Hill reenters payout fray

Well before Gov. Christie and the Legislature put a bull's-eye on millions of dollars in banked sick-time pay for municipal and school workers, Cherry Hill leaders were taking care of it.

In 1987, the township negotiated contracts to end the practice. Previously, unionized workers could cash out unused sick, vacation, personal, and compensatory days when they retired. Sometimes, the payouts hit six figures.

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"I was appalled by some of the large payouts to retirees." - Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt

Five years ago, Cherry Hill ended the practice for nonunion employees.

The township still has about $600,000 in payments to make over the next few years before it is finished.

That's down from last year.

In 2010, the township paid a retiring police chief $107,000 and cashed out several other employees, with most of the money going to long-serving police and their supervisors.

"For this sick-time liability, we will be in much better shape in a few years from now when we're done with it," said Dan Keashen, an aide to Mayor Bernie Platt.

Cherry Hill, though, is an anomaly.

The state Department of Community Affairs estimates that 427 of New Jersey's 566 municipalities are on the hook for $825 million in such payments.

Add schools, and the figure could double, according to the administration.

Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt (D., Camden) sponsored a bill last year that would have capped the payouts at $15,000. Workers who had accumulated more would not have lost that money, she said, but they couldn't have added to their totals.

The bill passed with bipartisan support, but Christie vetoed it in December. He favors halting growth of the payouts immediately.

Lampitt introduced another bill this month; it would cap the payments at $7,500 and, following Christie's wishes, take them away from those convicted of corruption. The latest version would also cap the payouts for state employees at $7,500. They have long been capped at $15,000.

Christie has said Lampitt's cap would cost too much. His staff multiplied the number of workers eligible for the cash-outs by $7,500 and estimated they would cost taxpayers $3.25 billion.

And that, said Michael Drewniak, the governor's press secretary, was a conservative estimate.

Lampitt has warned that every day Christie delays passage, workers keep accruing the payouts.

Her interest in this growing liability started when she was a Cherry Hill councilwoman in 2004. "I was appalled by some of the large payouts to retirees," she said. "I knew that when I got to the Assembly, I would be focused on this issue."

After she was seated in the Assembly in 2006, one of her first bills was a cap on sick-time payouts.

Lampitt, legislative leaders, and Christie are negotiating a final bill.

 


Contact staff writer Cynthia Burton at 856-779-3858 or cburton@phillynews.com.