WILDWOOD - Mayor Gary DeMarzo said Thursday that the city will submit a plan to the state within the week calling for the layoff of 11 police officers.
On Tuesday, DeMarzo, a former city police officer who now oversees public safety, sent a letter to Police Lt. Christopher Howard, president of the FOP Lodge No. 7, informing him of his intentions.
DeMarzo said the move toward layoffs serves as an alternative to the city's demotion plan.
An ordinance provided for cuts in the number of supervisory positions in the department, but some residents sought to have the ordinance put out for a vote by referendum and it is now the subject of a lawsuit
"There is significant resistance from members within the Police Department to the Demotion Plan. The city cannot afford to wait for the Police Department to engage in finding financial alternatives and, therefore, is going forward to the Civil Service Commission with both a Demotion Plan, as previously discussed, and, and an alternative, a Layoff Plan," DeMarzo wrote.
"It's a scare tactic," Howard said Thursday.
The union and the city are currently in arbitration over the union's contract and an arbitration meeting is scheduled for Feb. 9.
"We hope to come out with a contract," Howard said of that hearing.
The union's last contract with the city expired Dec. 31, 2008.
Howard said the union has offered concessions in the form of changes in longevity payments and the pay scale, but those offers were rejected.
At Wednesday night's City Commission meeting, DeMarzo pointed out that other New Jersey towns such as Camden and Newark have also pursued layoffs within their police departments because of budget troubles.
"It's fait to compare our town to Camden or Newark," Howard said. "But without the police services we have, we could become a Camden or a Newark."
Howard said the 11 officers were concerned for their future and that of the town.
"We'll do the best we can with what we have," Howard said.
Currently, the city's Police Department has 38 officers including Chief Steven Long and of those 27 are patrolmen.
DeMarzo said the city was seeking a number of changes including a restructuring within the department and changes to compensation packages, which includes health benefits, holidays and sick time, and uniform expenses.
"For every $1 in salary, it's another $1.25 to support the officer," DeMarzo said.
He said he planned to compile information showing what each officer makes in salary along with the specific costs of those other benefits.
"It makes you aware of what you're truly costing the taxpayers," DeMarzo said.
Howard said the department has been making do with less for several years and given the town's demographics and indictable case load its officers handle it is difficult to compare the department with other towns.
During Wednesday night's City Commission meeting, Patrolman Mark D'Amico, who said he plans to retire in four months, told the commissioners that the city was making a mistake in laying off its best officers.
"The Police Department is being ran into the ground," D'Amico said, adding he had only three regrets in life and one of them was "meeting you, Gary DeMarzo."