More than 400 employees of Atlantic City municipal government and its school district could be laid off under a pair of plans made public Friday.
Layoff notices went out to nearly 200 Atlantic City government employees, including about 88 firefighters and 107 employees in other city departments, according to a layoff list obtained by The Press of Atlantic City.
Meanwhile, the state monitor overseeing the city school district confirmed that it will lose 226 full-time positions under the proposed 2015-16 school budget he will present to the school board at a special meeting Monday.
The news of the possible layoffs, which could be in effect by the end of June, has been anticipated for months as the city and school district struggled to deal with the city’s ongoing financial crisis.
The loss of 195 city government positions on the list are not set in stone, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian said.
“This is fluid,” Guardian said, presenting the cuts as an unfortunate but necessary part of the city’s effort to close its 2015 budget gap without raising taxes.
The city estimates the layoffs would save $7.23 million in salaries and benefits over the second half of 2015. The city needs to trim its 2015 budget by $10 million more than it already has.
“We did everything we can to avoid layoffs,” Guardian said. “We did the best job we could with attrition.”
By June, about 200 employees will have retired since Guardian took office, according to the city.
The Recreation Department saw the largest cuts, percentagewise, with 49 employees — nearly the entire department — included on the list.
Guardian said recreation was in need of significant reform, with rolls that included staffers doing work duplicated by other employees.
The cuts would save about $2 million, Guardian said. The department’s remaining $800,000 in budget funding will be combined with existing grant money to support partnerships with a host of organizations conducting academic, athletic and mentorship-focused youth programming, he said.
The Police Athletic League and the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City will be central to that effort, Guardian said, and could extend their work throughout the city.
The summer’s recreation activities will continue, Guardian said.
Reactions to the news
Guardian said he already had spoken with Atlantic City Police Chief Henry White about the PAL’s future work, but early on Friday afternoon, PAL Director Michael Bailey expressed frustration that he had yet to speak with administration officials.
Bailey said his entire staff received layoff notices.
“What am I supposed to do with these programs?” Bailey said. “The reason I don’t know is because nobody is telling me.”
Later in the day, Bailey said he was able to set up a meeting with Guardian for next week.
The city’s WIC Department also saw significant cuts, with 14 staffers in the list.
Guardian said some related services already were being handled by contractors, and that the city aimed to do the same for WIC, a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children. Laid-off employees would have the chance to apply for those positions, he said, and could wind up back where they were but under contract with a private company.
Ed Davis, 71, was one of three staffers from Senior Citizens Outreach that received layoff notices Friday.
Davis said he has worked for the city for 18 years and with social services for about seven. His job includes helping seniors sign up for Meals on Wheels and obtain transportation services.
Davis said he’s receiving Social Security, but added, “I prefer working.”
“I am a senior, but I’m still mobile,” Davis said. “I enjoy working with (seniors), and I understand them.”
He described the layoffs as “a big mistake.”
Gail Jabbar, a 33-year City Hall worker, said the layoffs weren’t “a business move; it was a personal move.” Jabbar said the layoffs targeted specific individuals that department directors wanted to eliminate. “It’s obvious it’s unfair. It’s a slap in the face.”
Virginia Darnell, who heads the white-collar union, agreed.
“I do believe it’s a target list,” she said Friday. “That’s what some of our members have called it — a hit list.”
Darnell said the union plans to appeal the Civil Service Commission’s approval of the list and will offer alternative proposals in an effort to save jobs.
Al Borzi, who heads the Alliance of Atlantic City Supervisory Employees, saw only three of his employees on the layoff list, attributing that to numerous earlier retirements.
Even so, Borzi objected to the fact that union officials received the plan so long after it had been filed with Civil Service, adding that it left them unable to provide timely information to their membership.
“It’s unprofessional, from the administration,” Borzi said. “They ask for our cooperation, but they want to operate in secrecy.”
The Fire Department stands to lose 88 of its 238 positions.
Guardian indicated that if ongoing arbitration between the city and fire union finds the $6 million in cuts necessary for the department, the firefighting jobs could be saved.
But the city will see a savings of only 38 of those positions, as the 50 others are funded by a federal grant that would be lost with any cuts to personnel.
The Fire Department needed to reduce its costs by $9 million but only got to about $2.5 million when the city stopped negotiations and called in the arbitrator.
The union insists it tried to negotiate with the city and had cost-saving ideas. But Guardian said it was clear early on in discussions with the business administrator that arbitration was necessary.
A decision from the arbitrator is expected in early June, ahead of the June 26 date that the layoffs are expected to take place.
Even with the cuts, Guardian said, the department would be better staffed than most other departments. When looking at populations, places such as Camden and Hoboken have less than three firefighters per 1,000 people. Atlantic City is at more than six, he said. At 150 firefighters, it would be at 3.75 per 1,000.
But the union argues that the federal Staffing for Adequate Emergency and Fire Response proves the number needs to be 272, the original staffing level under the grant. The proposed cuts would be a nearly 45 percent cut.
While firefighters face a massive cut, the Police Department is looking to fill positions. The union previously agreed to reducing 330 budgeted positions to 285. But, with retirements, the force will likely be below that by the end of the year.
The proposed school budget is a mix of good news and bad.
The bad news is the district will lose 226.5 positions under the proposed 2015-16 school budget that the state monitor will present to the school board at a special meeting Monday. About 30 are retirements or resignations, but there also will be layoffs.
The good news, state monitor Gary McCartney said Friday, is that there will be no property tax increase, thanks to an additional $20 million in state aid the state education commissioner has agreed to support.
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said, if necessary, he would sponsor a bill to approve the additional aid in the state Legislature.
“Over the years, Atlantic City never got much state aid because of the casino ratable base,” he said. “Now we are underfunded.”
Overall, the budget is expected to come in at about $147 million, down from $166 million this year.
The proposed cuts include 75 elementary positions, 33 high school positions, 17 supervisors, six central office staff, 15 operations staff, 15 secretaries, 29 aides and four from miscellaneous support.
McCartney said almost all supervisory jobs are being eliminated, and the district will have to come up with creative ways to compensate.
He said no programs have been eliminated, but some have been reduced based on participation.
“Chapter 2 of this will be how do we deal with the issues created by the cuts to meet the needs of the kids,” he said.
McCartney said there will be a brief presentation to introduce the budget to the school board at a special meeting at 6 p.m Monday. A formal public hearing will be held May 18.
Board President John Devlin said Friday he just got McCartney’s memo and list. The board will review it but may not be able to change much, given the broad authority of the state monitor, he said.
McCartney was upset that his memo and the list of proposed cuts was given to radio host Harry Hurley when not all affected personnel may have been notified. The list does not include names, just positions, but some personnel could be identified by their position.
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