KEANSBURG — An audit by the Office of the State Comptroller found that this borough awarded nearly a half-million dollars in longevity payments to police officers and other municipal employees over a two-year period, and sold back weeks' worth of unused vacation and sick days to the then-police chief and borough clerk in apparent violation of their contracts.

Although not identified by name in the OSC report, former Police Chief James Pigott held that rank during the years audited, 2017 and 2018. In the latter year, the OSC found that the chief received 55 vacation days, or 11 full paid weeks off.

"Here's a way to think about what that means: Having 55 days of vacation, it would permit the police chief not to show up on Monday, ever," Acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh told New Jersey 101.5.

Pigott has since retired and collects a $156,000 yearly pension, according to public records. His base salary rose from $203,953 in 2017 to $208,032 in 2018 to approximately $215,000 at the time of his retirement.

While those figures represented the chief's apparent full-time employment, Walsh said that adding paid holidays and sick leave to the excessive vacation time effectively meant the chief might only have to show up to work three days a week.

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As for the longevity payments, totaling $451,000 in 2017-18, 76% of those went to borough police officers, accounting for anywhere from 2 to 10% of their base pay, with three officers receiving more than $10,000 each per year.

The audit report specified that Keansburg officers are eligible for these payouts after one year of service; other borough employees, after five years.

"Giving longevity payments, including for being around for a single year, which isn't what most people think of when they think about longevity at a job, these are all things that functioned as bonuses," Walsh said.

Borough Manager Raymond O'Hare, who prepared the municipality's response to the audit, said he agrees with most of its findings, taking exception only to the buying back of unused time by the police chief and borough clerk.

O'Hare wrote that those stipulations had been addressed in previous contracts and audits, but added that such buybacks will now be excluded from future contracts.

Walsh would like to see Keansburg's repudiation of those former policies go a step further.

"We've recommended that the borough go and recoup that money, because that is money that was not properly paid out," he said.

O'Hare also claimed in his response that in contract negotiations, he has tried to reduce the vacation time given to officers of all ranks, but has gotten pushback from PBA Local No. 68.

"We're going to take everything (the OSC) said seriously and put into effect things they've recommended, but the majority of the things they've recommended are contractual with the unions, and we're working on that to get some of those benefits reduced or done away with," O'Hare said.

Additionally, the borough said it has already taken corrective action to regulate employees' usage of municipal vehicles, according to the report.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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