HAMMONTON - The Town Council voted at a special meeting Thursday night to submit a plan to the state that calls for 10 municipal workers to be laid off. But it also voted to submit plans for mandatory and voluntary furlough days at the same time.
Mayor Steve DiDonato said the three "completely separate" plans are options for the council to fall back on if ongoing negotiations with the town's union fall through.
DiDonato would not give specifics on the negations other than to say the town's employees have been asked to agree to a wage freeze for two years.
"We found ways to cut the budget by working around the clock so our employees did not have to lose money, just freeze the wages they currently receive. The goal is to save 10 jobs, to help a friend, to help a community, to be a team player," DiDonato said in a prepared statement. "I know the Hammonton I grew up in always reached out to help each other whether it was breaking bread or showing your support for a family member or a friend in need. Now is the time to work together to all help push the wagon up the hill."
DiDonato told The Press of Atlantic City last week that the decision to lay off 10 workers was made based on the town's state aid getting cut by $330,000, which - when coupled with a $225,000 increase in health insurance costs, $300,000 in additional pension liability and a $200,000 drop in revenue - has the town facing a total budget gap of more than $1 million
Council also voted to cut its own salary by 25 percent, which reduced the mayor's salary from $8,000 to $6,000 and the council's from $6,500 to $5,000. DiDonato said the salary cuts will save the town $11,000.
If the 10 jobs cannot be saved, the town's workforce would be reduced by four police officers, four clerks, a Highway Department employee, and a Parks and Recreation employee.
"It not an easy thing we have to do tonight," Councilman Sam Rodio said. "We thought we had things in order, but... the state threw us a curveball. When you don't see a curveball you miss it by a mile."
The council voted that if any of the three plans will be adopted, that it must happen within 30 days.
"I am more optimistic than that," DiDonato said. "I'm hoping that we'll have this resolved in seven days ... with all 10 jobs intact. We've come a long way, and I don't think either side is totally happy with what was discussed."
But DiDonato said that was the mark of a good negotiation.
"I hope and pray that this works out," he said. "We're pulling every rabbit out ... if we have it, we're pulling it out of the hat."
It was hard for some of the people in danger of being laid off to have that same optimism.
Patrolman William Kurz is on that list.
"I haven't been optimistic since I found out," said Kurz, who has already begun putting out job feelers. "It'd be nice to keep my job, but there really isn't anything I can do about that. It's out of my hands."
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