WILDWOOD - The city's police and fire unions learned Tuesday they were facing a combined 25 layoffs by June 1 if the city moved ahead with its latest layoff plan.
City Administrator Dale Goodreau said Tuesday the drastic cuts came as the city faced a $205 million drop in its ratable base.
According to the county's Board of Taxation, Wildwood's ratable base - the city's value - was $1.775 billion in 2010. In 2011, the ratables will drop to $1.570 billion. Goodreau said that at the current tax rate, the decrease equates to $2.236 million in lost revenue, and the city was trying to make that up with $2 million in personnel cuts.
The city's 2010 budget totaled $25.3 million. Of that, $4.3 million were for year-round and seasonal salaries and wages for the Police Department.
"There's not a lot of money available in the discretionary budget," Goodreau said. "It's an absolutely dreadful situation the city is in."
But Goodreau said the layoff plan is just that, a plan that may or may not be needed.
"This is a plan. I'm planning for the worst and hoping for the best," Goodreau said.
Attorney Danielle M. Pinkston, representing Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7, attended a Tuesday morning meeting with city officials. She questioned the logic behind the plan.
"I don't know how the mayor thinks he's going to protect the public with 16 officers," Pinkston said. "To put it bluntly, he's somewhat out of his mind."
The department has 37 officers on its roster, but one of those is currently on an extended leave.
Under the proposed layoff plan, 20 police officers would be let go, while five firefighters would lose their jobs.
Mayor Gary DeMarzo, a former city police officer who left the department in May 2010, said the city is looking at a reduction in ratables that equates to a possible increase in the tax rate of 11 cents.
DeMarzo said that rather than increase the local tax rate, which was $1.089 per $100 of assessed valuation in 2010, he would pursue cuts in the city's spending.
"The money has to be found," DeMarzo said. "The budget is about 80 percent employee-based."
DeMarzo said the union has not offered any concessions that would prevent the layoffs.
"We have to attack benefits. We have to attack pensions," DeMarzo said, adding that other expenses such as training and uniforms also had to be targeted.
The mayor said the union's answer has been to "peddle fear and raise the taxes."
"The Police Department refuses to concede that the world has changed," DeMarzo said. "The city had to put in place a very difficult, very painful decision to go forth with the layoff plan."
He added he was also looking at a city-wide shutdown in November and December.
Lt. Christopher Howard, president of FOP Lodge No. 7, said Tuesday the union had offered a number of concessions, including adjustments to the pay scales for new hires, adjustments to the longevity pay schedule and adjustments to the salary advancement schedule.
All of those concessions, he said, would lead to "immediate financial savings."
"What more can be done," Howard said, noting that the city was risking public safety in a tourist town that sees a huge influx of people each summer. "We're doing more with a skeleton staff than we've had in years. But the union's primary focus is to continue to provide as comprehensive service as we can."
Howard said that the cuts would change the way the small force operates.
"We would be strictly reactive and not proactive," Howard said.
DeMarzo, however, said that was not the case.
"I wouldn't have done this if I thought if affects public safety," he said.
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