ATLANTIC CITY — Thirty laid-off police officers would get their jobs back and 26 demoted police officials would see their positions restored under Mayor Lorenzo Langford’s proposed 2011 budget, city documents show.
The mayor’s $224 million budget, presented to City Council on Wednesday, includes slightly more than $2 million to rehire 30 police officers at a salary of $67,605 each. The budget also includes $321,496 in added salaries to the 26 sergeants, lieutenants, captains and deputy chiefs demoted, who would regain their former titles and compensation.
The Langford administration laid off 60 police officers and demoted 31 others in an effort to combat a $9.5 million budget deficit last year. Five officers originally slated for demotion, including former Chief John Mooney, retired before the demotions were enacted.
Revenue and Finance Director Michael Stinson acknowledged that the jobs and promotions have been budgeted by the administration but said those additions do not mean the personnel moves are imminent.
“We did budget for them,” Stinson said Friday. “Whether we do it or not is a whole different story.”
Among the potential obstacles, Stinson said, is the state must approve the hires and promotions, based on a state oversight agreement between the city and New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs that was signed as a compromise to let the city receive state aid last year and avoid a government shutdown.
Policemen’s Benevolent Association President David Davidson Jr. said he hopes this means the officers will return, and that it will happen quickly.
“It sounds to me like they want to bring them back and make everyone (who lost their rank) whole again,” he said, adding he has been trying to get answers on what everything means. “If the money is in there, and it’s budgeted for that purpose, what’s the wait? Why not bring them now? Let’s do this thing.”
He acknowledged that the DCA approval could be a reason.
City Council members received itemized copies of the mayor’s budget Thursday, but some members hoped to get answers from the administration on certain items before discussing it publicly.
“There’s still a lot we need to discuss with the administraton,” said Councilman George Tibbitt, head of the Public Safety Committee. “One of the big questions is whether the state is going to allow this.”
Deputy Chief Ernest Jubilee could not be reached for comment. Deputy Chief Henry White declined to discuss the matter. His son is one of the laid-off officers.
The budget documents do not include a promotion for Jubilee, who was scheduled to fill the vacant police chief’s position Friday, before the Mayor’s Office abruptly postponed the ceremony without providing a reason. State officials declined to comment on whether a formal promotion request for Jubilee was sent to the DCA for approval.
The administration’s decision to lay off and demote law-enforcement employees last year set off a heated battle between the PBA and the city that included the association’s state representatives launching a public relations campaign to paint Atlantic City as a dangerous destination for tourists.
About two months after the last round of layoffs were implemented Sept. 30, 17 officers returned to the force as part of an agreement between the PBA and the administration. The 300 officers each contributed $410 to pay those 17 salaries and benefits for December. In exchange, the city agreed that the ranks would remain at 300.
Davidson confirmed that two more officers are in the process of being brought back to the department, currently at 298 officers. Those reinstatements, coupled with the potential rehiring of 30 more officers, would still keep 11 former city officers from returning to the force.
The PBA president said it has taken a couple of weeks for the additional two officers to rejoin the force but that he understands this is a new process for the city.
While the city determines whether to act on the items proposed in the mayor’s budget, those officers out of a job continue to wait.
“I feel like we have all been very patient throughout this process,” said Joe Caprio, 29, of Atlantic City, who was laid off Sept. 30.
He said some laid-off men and women have been out for as long as eight months, trying to support families and pay mortgages while collecting unemployment.
“If there is money in the budget to bring us back, we feel we should be reinstated immediately,” he said. “We’re revved up and ready to go. We anxiously await a phone call.”
The budget does not show any rehires for laid-off firefighters, but some of them likely will return as well. Earlier this month, the city won a $9.7 million grant that would pay for two years of salaries and benefits for the 30 firefighters laid off Sept. 30, as well as filling 21 positions lost to attrition.
The grant, funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security, is under review.
Tibbitt has said it should be ready for City Council approval at the next meeting.
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