This is the first in a series that will analyze and compare how much county municipalities spend on local police departments.
What sounds like an easy question to answer is more difficult than it might appear.
Many of the spouts came from Wildwood residents and the Herald decided to consider the available data on expenses for the city’s police department as a part of the city’s general fund budget. This analysis does not include capital funding for long-term equipment purchases. The analysis concentrates on the fiscal 2021 budget.
The problem is that budget documents provide broad levels of information while obscuring detail. Two sources of budget information are available, but they provide a different set of categories, making the synchronization of their data a challenge.
Wildwood Police Department Expense
The formal budget document shows salaries and wages for regular employees of the department at $5.7 million. There is another $715,000 budgeted for seasonal employees and $312,000 in non-salary operating funds. That total of $6.7 million misses the funds needed for pension payments, employer health insurance expense and other employment taxes. The user-friendly budget can help provide some insight into those costs.
According to the user-friendly budget document for the same 2021 fiscal year, the department has 40 officers, including senior officers. The base pay for these officers is shown as $3.75 million, with an additional $737,300 for overtime and other compensation.
The base pay is used for pension contribution calculations. According to the user-friendly document, the overtime and other category is for all payments not included in base pay.
What the user-friendly budget does provide is a look at the pension payments specific to the police officers. It also shows the expense associated with those officers for health insurance and other employment taxes. These added numbers are related only to the 40 sworn officers, which is why the salary and wages in the user-friendly document are lower than those in the regular budget document that would include civilian employees of the department.
What is the proximate expense of the department? Taking the full salary figures and operating expense from the regular budget document and the benefits and pension data from the user-friendly budget, the total is $8.6 million or about 27% of the total general fund budget of the city.
The breakdown in three categories, per budget documents, is total salary and wages, $6.8 million; budgeted police officer pension payment, $1.2 million; and the cost of benefits and other taxes for the police officers in the department, $600,000.
Public safety is expensive. It is important to remember that police and fire departments arrange coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week, unlike any other city departments.
It is also important to note that New Jersey police officers are paid well by national standards. An analysis by Forbes, in 2020, listed the average salary of police officers in New Jersey as the third highest in the nation, behind only California and Alaska.
The analysis of Wildwood expenses for policing admittedly misses things. It fails to capture the full expense associated with the department’s civilian workforce. The figures are also budgeted amounts, which may not all get expended in any given fiscal year.
Wildwood's 2021 Budget
The total Wildwood budget for 2021 comes in at $47.2 million. This number includes the general fund budget and the two city utilities for water and sewer services.
The general budget is the basic operating budget for the municipality and is funded, in part, by the local purpose tax revenue. Both utilities received revenues from user fees, water and sewer rates billed to users of the services.
The general fund budget of Wildwood for 2021 is $31.8 million. The revenue that supports that budget includes $21.8 million in taxes. Local taxpayers are covering about 69% of the operating budget.
Other funding includes a portion of the city’s surplus that is allocated to the annual budget, local revenues that range from parking meter receipts to municipal court fines and state aid.
The budget is presented to the public in two different formats. There is the standard state format used by all 565 of New Jersey’s municipalities. Many, but not all, municipalities also make available to the public what is called a “user friendly” budget document. It is not as detailed as the standard format, but it does provide certain information that is obscured in the broader budget document.
Combining data from the two documents gives a proximate idea of the expense of the city’s police department.
To contact Vince Conti, email email@example.com.