ATLANTIC CITY — The city’s firefighters and state overseers will be in court Tuesday for a legal battle over proposed deep cuts to the Fire Department.
Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez will hear arguments on whether he should block the state from imposing 100 layoffs and making unilateral changes to the firefighters’ union contract.
The hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at Atlantic County Civil Courthouse in Atlantic City.
State officials in charge of the city’s finances plan to cut the Fire Department’s staff nearly in half this fall, from 225 to 125, and create a new work schedule and platoon structure to make remaining firefighters work more days.
In addition, the state wants to eliminate benefits such as terminal leave, switch firefighters to a cheaper health care plan and adjust rules regarding overtime. Those changes were scheduled to take place this month and would save the city $14 million this year and $5 million per year thereafter, according to the state.
But the union, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 198, says it already made significant concessions in its most recent contract and argues the staff cuts could negatively impact public safety. The union also says the so-called takeover law impairs its contract rights and is unconstitutional.
The city spent $29 million on firefighter personnel costs in 2016, about 12 percent of the city’s $240 million budget.
The city is almost $500 million in total debt and its tax base has dropped from $20 billion to $6.5 billion amid a downturn in the resort’s casino market.
State officials took over the city’s finances in November through the Municipal Stabilization & Recovery Act, which gave the state authority to amend or break union contracts and hire or fire workers, among other powers.