On Monday, May 21st The Citizens Campaign hosted the Tri-County Call to Service at Gloucester County College. It was a great event that featured inspirational remarks from The Citizens Campaign Executive Director Bea Daggett, Assembly Gilbert “Whip” Wilson, and State Comptroller Matthew Boxer.

The event was focused on teaching residents how they have the power to effect positive change in their community. 

Keynote speaker New Jersey State Comptroller Matthew Boxer honed in on specific action steps citizens can take in their hometown (watch his speech here).  Since 2008, the State Comptroller’s office has identified hundreds of millions of dollars in waste at all levels of government.  Boxer offered four simple questions every citizen should be asking their local officials.

1. Is your municipality paying for phone lines that are no longer being used?

At first read, this may seem like a silly question, but his office found that the State of New Jersey had more than 19,000 unused phone lines, costing taxpayers $3.2 million annually.  Read the Report here.

To find out if your town is overpaying for phone services, submit an open public records request for copies of the itemized phone bills for all municipal phone lines and cell phones for the past 12 months.  You can see on the invoices if any of the phone lines report zero usage.

Does your municipality have a policy for who should receive a mobile device? They should. Here is a link to the policy established by the New Jersey’s Office of Information Technology.

2. Are there more affordable options for large municipal expenses like health care for employees?

The Comptroller’s Office surveyed 4 local government entities to identify how they obtained insurance services and how much they spent compared to state plans. Their research found that in four local government units, more than $12 million dollars could have been saved annually by switching to the state health benefits plan (Here is a map of municipalities in the SHBP). If you looked at all local units of government in New Jersey, this could be $100 million.

To find out how your town obtains insurance, download the Citizens Campaign Best Price Insurance Presentation Kit.

3. What is the total amount your municipality is paying employees?

In this case, we’re not just talking about salaries, but also hidden compensation.  The Comptroller’s found that NJ Turnpike Authority had nearly $30 million dollars in additional employee compensation then what was disclosed.  How could the salaries sky-rocket by $30 million?  The authority was providing compensation through clothing allowances for non –uniformed employees, the “retention” bonus for staying on the job,  the “birthday bonus”  for working on your birthday; and the “separation bonus” for when you leave. Whether the employee stayed or left the job they were rewarded. (Read the report on the New Jersey Turnpike Authority)

To find out how much your town is actually spending, file an OPRA request for total compensation, including salaries, overtime, and bonuses.  Also file a request for the municipal employee contract, this will show you if there are requirements for birthday bonuses or separation bonuses.

4. Which employees receive a clothing allowance and how much?

The Comptroller’s Office found that 50% of state employees with clothing allowances did not actually have a special uniform or dress code.  Additionally, most states don’t offer upfront clothing allowances, but allow employees to submit receipts for reimbursement.  Since the report came out the state has adopted stricter policies determining who receives clothing allowances. (Read the report here.)

Consider finding out which employees in your town receives a clothing allowance, this information will be included in the contracts for municipal employees, police and fire.