WILDWOOD - Police Chief Steven Long said Wednesday he wonders how his department will function if the city moves ahead with a plan to layoff 20 of its officers.
"I don't know how you can cut 66 percent of a police department and not affect public safety," Long said.
In 2007, when Long became chief, the department had 47 members including the chief. Today, the department has 35 active members on its roster. That number was at 37 until two new officers were terminated by the city following their probationary period in January.
"It would definitely be difficult - a lot of services would not be provided. It would have to be serious crimes only," Long said.
The department currently operates on three eight-hour shifts with about eight officers per shift, including supervisors. The department's summer workforce increases when seasonal officers arrive. This year, the city has a budget to hire 30 seasonal officers compared to about 40 in past years.
On Tuesday, the police and fire unions here learned the city had initiated a layoff plan that would reduce the Police Department by 20 officers and the Fire Department by five.
City Administrator Dale Goodreau said the town is facing a shortfall of more than $2 million in revenue thanks to a decrease in the city's value. The ratable base in 2010 was $1.8 billion, but that figure has dropped to $1.6 billion.
Cuts in the two departments would save the city an estimated $2 million.
Long said the Police Department fully understood the economic difficulties facing Wildwood and other communities, but it has already experienced significant reductions in its numbers.
Normal staffing at the moment would be 44 officers, and instead there are 35, he said.
"We're already down 25 percent. We have five unfilled supervisor positions. Dispatchers are down 25 percent, secretaries are down 50 percent. Our overtime budget is down. Our seasonal budget is down," Long said, adding there was little room for additional cuts.
The union's last contract with the city expired in 2008 and no raises have been given since, he said.
"They're all aware of the economic times," Long said.
Mayor Gary DeMarzo said Wednesday that the city's goal was to achieve a tax rate of $1.04 compared to the $1.089 rate of 2010, and to do that cuts have to be made.
"The taxpayers are very understanding. City Hall employees are angry. Unfortunately, no one else has come up with a solution," he said.
DeMarzo said the city continued to seek investors for a planned backbay solar project and hoped that revenue would be added to the city's budget, but cuts would still be needed.
DeMarzo pointed out that the layoff plan can change before the June 1 layoff date if there are negotiations and concessions made.
"It is a layoff plan. No one got layoff notices yet," DeMarzo said.
Lt. Christopher Howard, president of FOP Lodge No. 7, said the layoffs would take place in order of seniority, however, so the officers know where they stand on the list, something that has affected morale.
"Our services are literally going to be cut in half. It's going to be a dangerous situation for the officers," Howard said.
Commissioner Al Brannen, who previously oversaw public safety, said Wednesday that he expected some layoffs would take place in the city, but not in the drastic numbers proposed this week.
"The police department needs restructuring, but it could have been done a little better because we have had quite a few people who have retired or are retiring," Brannen said.
Brannen recalled that he, DeMarzo and Commissioner Edward Harshaw said they would reduce taxes, which they did in 2010, but he believed the tax rate would likely go up in 2011 given not only the city's, but the state's economic struggles.
"I personally don't see a tax decrease this year," Brannen said.
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