HAMMONTON - Taxes will remain stable, but 10 jobs remain in jeopardy with the budget Town Council discussed Thursday night.

The $11.9 million spending plan is more than $700,000 smaller than last year's, with nearly half the reduction - $326,000 - cut in state aid.

The 10 fewer positions will decrease the budget about $300,000, Mayor Steve DiDonato said. Except for those large decreases in salaries and wages, most line items increased slightly.

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DiDonato opened Thursday's budget discussion meeting by making a statement about the budget, putting the onus on the town's employee unions to give more concessions in order to preserve their members' jobs, pushing two-year contracts with lower wages each year.

"Bargaining groups need to step up to the plate in order to save the jobs," he said.

The union representing the town's police officers has criticized the town's approach to its negotiations, saying no other town in the area has asked for concessions for two years, instead focusing on the financial situation this year only.

"If he (DiDonato) truly wanted to save the jobs as he wants everyone to believe, he would take what he says he needs for the 2010 budget, and if there are budget issues in future years, he would deal with them like we have in every other town," Mainland PBA 77 President Ray Theriault said in an e-mail message.

DiDonato said Thursday night, as he has before, that he wants a two-year deal in order to give police officers job security, knowing there would not be cuts next year, and because a two-year deal would guarantee money coming from the school district to pay for two school resource officers.

Although the union voted a week ago that it would only agree to a one-year deal, DiDonato said he is still willing to negotiate.

"I'll sit down right now and won't leave until tomorrow morning," he said. "I'll stay for three days. Just give me a pot of coffee and something to wash my face once in a while and I'll be all right."

The town also plans to cut four secretaries, a Parks and Recreation director and a Public Works employee.

The governing body also plans to use about $2.25 million in surplus funds to balance its budget.

The council plans to introduce the budget at its May meeting, with a public hearing set for June.

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