All retirees must have at least 25 years of accredited service with the city to qualify for lifetime health benefits under terms of an ordinance introduced by the City Council on Wednesday. The council also introduced an ordinance requiring the use of compostable plastic, recyclable paper, and/or reusable checkout bags by major supermarket and pharmacy chains with stores in Jersey City.
City Councilman Steven Fulop, who crafted the legislation for the 25-year requirement, wants to end the practice known as “tacking,” in which employees who have actually worked for the city for only a short time but have accumulated 25 years of government experience in other municipalities also get lifetime health benefits on the city taxpayer’s dime.
Stores that violate the ordinance would be subject to fines starting at $100.
These two first-reading ordinances will be up for a public hearing and final vote at the next council meeting scheduled for Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. in City Hall, 280 Grove St.
However, both pieces of legislation were not without debate.
Weighing the benefits
Opposition to Fulop’s benefits ordinance came from City Council members Michael Sottolano, Ray Velazquez, and Bill Gaughan. Gaughan actually voted against introducing Fulop’s ordinance, agreeing with the stance that Sottolano and Velazquez took.
Sottolano wanted language in the ordinance allowing for military veterans who work for the city to “buy back” the time served in the military to have it count toward their time as a city employee. He also wants to see the threshold for qualification reduced from 25 years to 20 years.
Velazquez concurred with Sottolano about veterans working for the city and a 20-year requirement for lifetime health benefits.
“It’s important that employees who work for the City of Jersey City to show a commitment to the city of Jersey City,” Velazquez said. “I don’t know if the full 25 years is a fair way to show commitment. I think something less than that, 20 years, is appropriate.”
Fulop, who served in the Marines in 2003 in Iraq, said after the council meeting that he is “sympathetic” to veterans but disagrees with the proposal for military veterans.
“I am patriotic and I’m involved in veterans’ issues, but that does not mean that you qualify for lifetime health benefits,” Fulop said.
Not everybody’s bag
A concern was brought up about the plastic bag ordinance regarding the legal ramifications if the ordinance were ever passed.
Councilman Gaughan said “more work” was needed on the ordinance before it could be passed, but did not explain further. Velazquez said a study should be done to see if plastic bags are a problem in Jersey City prior to approving the ordinance, to make sure it isn’t “attacked” and thousands of dollars in legal fees are spent by the city in case of a legal challenge.
City Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis explained after the meeting that the “supermarket lobby” in states such as California have fought and successfully prevented similar ordinances from being passed in the cities of Manhattan Beach and Oakland. Matsikoudis also said that the representatives for various supermarket chains in New Jersey have reached out to City Hall regarding the ordinance.
But Matsikoudis was optimistic that the ordinance will be “passed ultimately.”
Some residents during the public speaking portion of the meeting also encouraged passage.
Among them was resident Liz Long, the co-founder of Bag The Habit, a Jersey City-based company that creates reusable bags. Long described how many chemicals go into making a plastic bag as well as how they contribute to the litter problem.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.