Thirty-two municipal workers were laid off Tuesday, one day after residents and workers strongly criticized Hamilton Township committee members for voting for the most severe job cuts in township history.
The layoffs approved Monday night to help close a $2.4 million budget deficit are effective immediately, with workers receiving 30 days pay in lieu of notice.
For township administrator Mike Jacobs, who has been on the job since Jan. 2, the individual meetings with those laid-off employees Tuesday was the first time he had met most of them. For the employees, he said, the day was emotionally draining and tense as some who have worked for the township for more than a decade found themselves jobless.
The effect of eliminating more than 20 percent of the township’s work force remains to be seen to residents as township officials still work through the final details of who is left to do certain jobs, Jacobs said. However, he said, the new era will mean longer wait times for residents and eliminated services, such as township-provided transportation for senior citizens.
The dire budget forecast for 2011 was outlined in July, when former township administrator Ed Sasdelli told township committee to expect a $2.4 million deficit. Residents fired back Monday, asking committee members why things were not done in late summer and fall to address the problem. The deficit is mostly traced to annual decreases in state aid and double digit increases to health care and pension costs, Jacobs said.
However, the township has relied on millions in surplus money to balance the budget, much of which came from development and construction fees. Additionally, after years of a growing ratable base, in 2010 the total taxable value of land and improvements declined by more than $4 million, shows a review of annual tax information filed with the Department of Community Affairs.
According to the layoff plan, the total salaries and benefits of those laid off add up to much more than the $1,036,204 in savings for the 2011 budget year. The savings would have been greater, but the township will need to pay those employees’ unemployment and other compensation. The majority of the savings comes from laying off the 13 police officers, totaling $614,000 for this budget year. The total salary and compensation package for those 13 positions equals nearly $1.6 million.
Some of the 16 blue-collar workers represented by the Teamsters may be able to invoke their seniority to return to work, but that will push out a worker who has less seniority, said Marcus King, President of Local 331. King said workers have three days to file for that right and said several already have said they intend to do so.
The positions eliminated include: a building inspector, a zoning officer, two municipal court clerks, a tax collection clerk, 13 police officers, a police dispatcher, two part-time drivers for the senior center, a public works mechanic and a public works truck driver, according to the layoff plan presented Monday night.
Jacobs said that despite asking for concessions during the three-week window after the layoffs were proposed Jan. 18, none was given. King said that was because the township still does not have a plan for how to address the cuts.
“We did talk about concessions. This group is ready, is willing. The problem is because the township doesn’t have a plan of what to do, it’s kind of hard to agree to anything at this point,” King said. “It’s kind of tough to give concessions if they’re going to layoff again. That’s why last night you hear we haven’t given the concessions. It’s because they haven’t put out a game plan.”
King said the big concern now turns to who will do the township’s work, when 16 low-level “worker bee” employees were among those laid off.
“That’s going to be the issue. The work still has to be performed in government. Somebody has to do the leg work,” King said. “That’s going to be the next challenge, to find out how functional Hamilton Township is going to be.”
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