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Mediation Meltdown? County, Taylor Still Talking as Deadline Nears in Budget Fight 5.3.2006

By Rick Racela

CREST HAVEN – Was it mediation or stagnation?
The county Prosecutor and representatives of the freeholders met for some five hours April 27 – they had lunch brought in – and agreed only to say nothing publicly about their ongoing differences over increased funding for the Prosecutor.
Barring a compromise in the next four days – but who’s counting? – the dispute will go to Acting Superior Court Assignment Judge William Todd May 8.
The mediation effort took place in the Linwood office of retired Superior Court Judge Anthony Gibson.
For the county, Administrator Steve O’Connor said both sides were “still in negotiations, continuing the dialogue.”
Prosecutor Robert Taylor said, “There’s been no resolution as yet, but we are still talking.”
And Russell Lichtenstein, attorney representing the county, said “both sides are still dealing with each other in the mediation mode.  Neither has foreclosed further discussions.”
The “talking” apparently was going on over the telephone, or e-mail.
No return to the mediation table was scheduled.
“At least we had the opportunity to identify the specific information so everyone understood each side’s position,” said O’Connor.
Each side’s position has been known for some six months.
Citing increases in crime, especially drug-related, additional responsibilities like Megan’s law and homeland security, and claiming under-funding for years, Taylor has asked for 18 additional investigators and three agents spaced out over a three-year period.
He also wants some 19,000 square feet of additional space and suggested the third floor of the county courthouse.
The county claims the bill would be at least $9 million.
This year’s county budget gave Taylor three additional investigators, two of whom came on board April 24. Gabriel Berkey and Linda Santos are starting at $49,029. Freeholder-Director Dan Beyel and Freeholder Leonard Desiderio voted against even that.
Other than the three new positions, the all-Republican board dug in its heels. On March15, Democrat Taylor filed with the courts a “Bigley action,” named for the Camden County prosecutor whose 1969 case set the precedent for such appeals.
Taylor has the backing of the Division of Criminal Justice of the state Attorney General’s office. He also has several studies of his office, which support his contentions.
At the mediation were Taylor, O’Connor, Lichtenstein and Chief of Detectives James Rybicki.
Lack of freeholder support for Taylor’s requests was clear last November and he prepared his Bigley petition and got permission from state Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to file it last December.
He waited to file it until after freeholders adopted their $126-million budget March 14.
Contact Zelnik at (609) 886-8600 Ext. 27 or: jzelnik@cmcherald.com

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