ATLANTIC CITY — The city prepared for a shutdown Tuesday, with municipal workers bracing for three weeks without pay and civic associations assembling to plan volunteer efforts.
Some city workers were considering filing for unemployment benefits, something state officials said they would be eligible for, so long as they meet other requirements.
“The municipal employees would be able to file for unemployment as long as they’re not going to be reimbursed for their contract at a later date,” said Amanda Pisano, public information officer at the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Eligible city employees could receive 60 percent of their average weekly earnings, according to the department’s website. The minimum base week amount is $168. The maximum is $657.
The unemployment benefits would come from the state, an irony pointed out by Virgina Darnell, president of the Atlantic City White Collar Professional Association, given the state’s refusal to give the city an $8.5 million bridge loan.
Mayor Don Guardian announced Monday that without a short-term state loan, the city’s government would shut down from April 8 to May 2, except for essential services such as police and fire. Those employees will work without pay for 22 days and be reimbursed once the city receives its second-quarter property-tax payment May 1.
Nonessential service employees will not work during that three-week period. Darnell said she was frustrated that the state “is letting the city falter like this and putting all the employees out of work.”
“A lot of my members are low-paid and live paycheck to paycheck,” she said.
Gov. Chris Christie said at a news conference Tuesday that the state won’t loan the city money and that a takeover measure passed by the Senate should be approved by the Assembly.
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“So the mayor can decide to do one of two things: either cooperate, along with Speaker (Vincent) Prieto, or the inevitable will occur,” Christie said. “And the inevitable is that they will face bankruptcy and if they do, then the bankruptcy court will control their fate, not the state of New Jersey. If that is what they prefer, it is their choice.”
A state takeover bill passed in the Senate would let the state sell city assets, eliminate departments and terminate collective-bargaining agreements, among other powers for five years, to fix the city’s shaky finances.
Police and fire officials canceled a press conference on the shutdown. They have volunteered to work without pay for the 24 days.
Acting Fire Chief Scott Evans said police and fire officials would still likely be required to serve in a shutdown under state statutes. He noted that police and fire officials take an oath of office to protect the public.
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“We’re still obligated to honor that,” Evans said.
Guardian said Monday he was grateful to the police and fire departments.
“You read it through legislation, you could say, ‘Well, you can compel police and fire. You can do that.’ (But) that’s very difficult,” Guardian said. “So for police and fire to voluntarily accept this knowing that it’s tough times, it’s not like I can find volunteers to be policemen and give them guns.”
Meanwhile, the city’s civic associations are meeting Thursday to plan to perform some of the city’s services. Guardian said Monday that the city would ask such groups to help with Meals on Wheels, transporting seniors and organizing recreation activities for children.
“We are planning on helping,” said Augusta Garrett, president of the Venice Park Civic Association.
But Darnell threatened legal action if the city gets volunteers to do the jobs of city workers.
“That’s a violation of our contract,” she said.