2011-12-01 / Front Page

County drawbridges privatized to save $572K

Twenty-eight bridge tenders to receive layoff notices
Staff Writer

Oceanic Bridge Oceanic Bridge RUMSON — The Sea Bright-Rumson Bridge and the Oceanic Bridge are two of four county drawbridges whose daily operations will be handed over to a private firm beginning in 2012.

The Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders decided on Nov. 9 to shift responsibility for operation of the bridges to Drawbridge Services Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla. The move will save county taxp ayers $572,270 annually.

Rumson Mayor John Ekdahl said he supports the privatization if money could be saved.

“We’re fine with it as long as the functionality is there. We’re all county taxpayers so if they can save money, we’re fine with it,” he said.

“The state gets away from all the health care costs, all the pension costs. Those are all handled separately by the company they’ve hired, which places jobs nationwide.”

Ekdahl said the hand-off of everyday operations should not impact the borough, which already does not share any overhead regarding the two drawbridges.

“As far as the borough of Rumson goes, and Sea Bright and Middletown for that matter, there’s no effect whatsoever. I don’t think the average person is really going to notice any difference at all,” he said.

The two other county bridges to fall under a private contract beginning in January are the Glimmer Glass Bridge in Manasquan and the Shark River Bridge connecting Avon and Belmar.

Bill Heine, director of the county Department of Public Information, said cost savings is the primary reason for privatizing the drawbridges.

“The county, like every other agency, is facing tough budgets. We have been for a number of years. The county actually has very proactively looked for ways to consolidate things in government and looked for efficiencies, and we’ve determined that this is an area that we can make a change and save a considerable amount of money,” he explained.

It currently costs $2,057,778 to operate the four bridges, including salaries, fringe benefits and maintenance materials. The private firm submitted a winning bid of $1,485,508.

Four chief bridge operators, 19 bridge operators and five bridge attendants currently handle the daily operations. However, the 28 employees will face layoff notices with the change.

“We anticipate that a lot of these workers will be rehired by the new company. Part of the contract says the new company has to interview them. They’re familiar with the bridges and how they operate and they can hit the ground running that way,” said Heine.

Bridge employees will also be given the opportunity to fill existing vacancies within the county or choose to retire.

According to Heine, hiring a private firm is consistent with the national trend. To his knowledge, there are no other drawbridges in the state that are privatized, making Monmouth County the first to do so.

“Every year we keep hoping that this economy is going to pick up and it’s still sluggish. There are some signs, but the freeholders have been very careful not to overburden taxpayers anymore,” said Heine.

“Last year we spent less money than the prior year for the first time ever. The county is continually looking for places to save money, and this just happens to be one that was selected.”

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