By JOHN T. WARD
Make that hats. The departure of Stanley Sickels, who serves as the borough government’s administrator, purchasing agent and construction code official, may test a long-debated premise: that replacing him would require more than one hire, at a cost far exceeding his combined salary.
Under a plan approved December 14 by the council in a closed door session that redbankgreen learned of Tuesday, Sickels plans to retire January 1, 2018, ending a municipal career that began in September, 1979.
First, though, Sickels is scheduled to receive two payouts for unused sick time totaling $173,828.20, according to an agreement approved by the council. That sum will be divided into two payments of $86,914.10 — one due by the end of this week, the other at the end of June.
[The council also approved a payout plan for the police department’s second-highest-ranking officer, meaning the town will spend at least $327,356 in coming months for unused sick days and vacation time. See redbankgreen‘s companion story on the financial impact of the payouts here.]
Sickels could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Mayor Pasquale Menna also could not be reached.
Buying out Sickels’ sick time months in advance of his departure from the payroll is good for the borough because his benefits will stop accruing, said Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer, who heads the finance committee. Each hour of sick time unused by Sickels will cost the borough $95.51, according to the payout agreement.
Here’s the payment schedule: 16-304-sickels-schedule
A borough policy that caps compensation for unused sick time at 1,820 hours means that Sickels won’t be paid for another 1,210 hours he racked up, saving the borough a potential additional cost of $115,614.86, said Chief Financial Officer Eugenia Poulous.
For Sickles, by taking one payment in 2016 and the other in 2017, he softens the impact of income taxes, Schwabenbauer said.
Sickles collects two salaries totaling $173,824 — three-fifths of it for his duties as construction official, according to borough records.
Sickles and his wife, Donna, filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors last March following a foreclosure action on their home, according to public records.
Sickels said his financial woes were personal, and arose as a result of charitable giving and spiraling costs arising from a mortgage refinancing. The filing was unrelated in any way to his job, he said.
The bankruptcy case was discharged on July 14, court records show, and the foreclosure action no longer appears on the Monmouth County Sheriff’s website. Sickels told redbankgreen in September that the bank that sought the foreclosure had agreed to renegotiate his debt.
As for the challenge of replacing Sickels, Schwabenbauer said he “has spent his life serving the borough,” and because he possesses “a wealth of institutional knowledge, you’ll not be able to replace him overnight,” she said.
Still, she doesn’t think it will be as economically difficult as Menna and others have argued in the past.
Schwabenbauer said the borough first has to restructure its salary guidelines, under which the starting salary for the administrator ranges from $41,710 to $52,000 a year, under a proposal up for a vote at Wednesday night’s council meeting. The salary for the top borough job has to be more competitive in order to attract top talent, while other roles served by Sickels will need looking at, she said.
“I think it can be done without significant impact to the borough,” she said. “But we have to explore what’s out there in terms of a model.”
Wednesday council meeting, the final one of the year, is scheduled for 5 p.m. at borough hall. Here’s the agenda.