ATLANTIC CITY — Mayor Lorenzo Langford is proposing to lay off at least 93 city employees and says he could expand that to as many as 750 employees unless the state gives the city a $9.5 million budget-cap waiver.
Either figure would amount to the most drastic proposed payroll cut in the city’s history.
The city is requesting permission from the New Jersey Civil Service Commission to lay off the 93 workers by Sept. 30, according to a letter obtained Friday by The Press of Atlantic City from city union leaders. If the city fails to obtain the waiver from the state, the document says the layoffs would approach “approximately 750” employees, about half of the city’s work force of 1560. The city is trying to balance its budget, which was introduced at $211 million.
“I’m very concerned, and the mayor is concerned,” Business Administrator Michael Scott said Friday. “When you think about this happening to families who are your co-workers, it’s not a good thought. It’s a frightening thought.”
In the letter to the state, Scott said the cuts are necessary to tackle a budget shortfall of about $11 million. The administration expects to save about $1.5 million from the 93 layoffs, which include 40 police officers and 30 firefighters.
Union officials seemed stunned by the news Friday.
“This city can’t run itself,” said David Davidson Jr., president of the local PBA. “The body politic of this town does not care about public safety. They cannot care about public safety. There have been four homicides since June 11. This is an absolute disgrace.”
The city this year already has imposed 35 layoffs, including 20 police officers, and 15 demotions of other police officials, although some retired before they were laid off. Ten furlough days are also scheduled to be implemented starting Aug. 2 for city employees, although public safety workers are exempt.
Scott said those cuts, and the cuts proposed this week, are a result of union leaders unwilling to make unselfish decisions for the benefit of their members.
“We’ve been discussing this all along, but I think that there was always a hope that the union would respond with some legitimate alternatives,” he said. “Don’t they say that they’re a brotherhood or a sisterhood together? And yet some would keep their jobs and watch others lose them, instead of making some sacrifices.”
Labor leaders have argued that the city had its budget plan in place before it approached negotiations and refused to veer from it.
Langford was not in his office Friday afternoon and could not be reached for comment. His spokesman also did not answer requests to be interviewed.
The city recently requested permission to exceed the state imposed property tax cap by $9.5 million. The request is similar to the $9 million waiver officials sought last year, which was rejected by Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s administration.
Labor and city officials have said it is unlikely the city will get the waiver, but it’s even tougher to imagine Atlantic City’s work force cut in half.
“I’m not sure how the city could function, quite honestly,” said state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic. “Certainly, we would try to work with the city to avoid those kinds of massive layoffs.”
Virginia Darnell, head of the city’s white-collar union, said she thinks the number is simply a “scare tactic.”
“That’s outrageous. If the city needs to lay off that many people, it’s sad that we’re in this situation,” she said. “I’m not sure that it’s all Langford’s fault, but this has been progressing and I’m not sure they did anything to try to fix it.”
Union leaders filed a lawsuit against the mayor and his administration to that effect earlier this week, claiming Langford frequently violated a hiring freeze enacted by City Council in April 2009. Council’s ordinance required the mayor to seek its approval before filling any positions that were not mandated by the state.
In the city’s letter to the state Civil Service Commission this week, Scott wrote that the city will work to lessen the impact of the layoffs by, among other things, enacting a hiring freeze. The city made the same claim in a letter to the state commission on March 12. Since that letter, the administration has hired 31 new employees.
Other plans to save money this year have fallen through. The city expected to save more than $4 million with approved changes to its retirement program, which increased its co-pay for retiree health benefits from 75 percent to 95 percent. But the state intervened by questioning whether the city was ultimately offering employees an incentive to retire. Retirement incentives are illegal under New Jersey law because they could unnecessarily burden the pension system.
The city responded by halting the changes, but little news has come since.
“They’re acting like it’s dead,” Darnell said, noting that the city’s anxiety about the program could be heightened since news emerged last month that the state penalized the city’s school board $3 million for a similar plan.
Steven Glickman, the city’s labor attorney, could not be reached to discuss the retirement program’s status.
Langford’s proposed layoffs
Police officers: 40
Health and Human Services: 9
Licensing and Inspections: 9
Public Works: 3
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