Monmouth County will privatize the operation of its movable bridges in 2012. The Board of Chosen Freeholders unanimously approved a $1.485 million one-year contract with Florida-based Drawbridge Services, Inc. during its meeting at the building in Freehold on Wednesday.
The county projects a $572,270 savings, principally in its current overtime and employee benefits expenditures, according to Timothy Ryan, a principal engineer for county. Privatization will also limit the county's liability, he said. Monmouth is the first government agency in the state to turn over its bridge operations to the private sector.
“The state of New Jersey currently does not privatize any of their 23 bridges. They are looking into it—possibly, depending on our results, they will move forward—but that’s to be determined. Privatizing bridges is consistent with the national trend,” Ryan said. He noted Florida, Massachusetts and Maryland have contracted private bridge tending services.
Monmouth County has four movable bridges: Oceanic Bridge, spanning the Navesink River from Middletown to Rumson; Sea Bright Bridge, connecting Sea Bright and Rumson over the Shrewsbury River; the Shark River Bridge in Avon and Belmar; and the Glimmer Glass Bridge in Manasquan.
Drawbridge Services, Inc. currently has no staff or service contracts in New Jersey and will interview the 28 full-time county workers who tend and operate the bridges, according to Department of Public Works & Engineering Director John Tobia.
“They did not say the number of employees they will hire but we dictated the number of employees and shifts that have to be manned on those bridges. How they accomplish that is up to them, but they have to comply with the number of personnel on those bridges according to the bid specifications,” Tobia said.
The county employs 28 full-time workers to tend and operate drawbridges. Bridge operators account for 19 positions and earn an average salary of $37,157, according to Ryan.
Freeholder Director Robert Clifton noted that the county bridge tenders will have an advantage in the hiring process because of their familiarity and experience with the bridges.
County Administrator Teri O’Connor said any bridge employees not hired by Drawbridge Services, Inc. will be considered for other positions in the county.
However, Paul Pologruto, treasurer for Communications Workers of America Local 1032, the union representing the bridge workers, disputed the projected cost savings and urged the freeholder board to vote against the measure.
“We think it’s a bad idea to privatize something as safety-connected as bridge operations,” Pologruto said. “Everybody has budget problems. I don’t if putting people who are probably some of the lowest paid workers in the county out on the street is worth the money that you’re going to save.”
He said the union explored options for cost cutting without privatization and projected $400,000 in potential savings. The measures, which were presented to the freeholders, included contract changes and overtime reduction.
“I think the county’s projections are really optimistic,” Pologruto said. “How are they going to do that? What are they going to pay these people? It’s not a big operation.”