NORTHFIELD — The city will lay off four crossing guards in the next two weeks, which Mayor Vince Mazzeo said was part of about $229,000 in cuts to the city’s police department.
Police agreed to trade overtime pay for compensatory pay for the rest of the year, saving $81,000. They also agreed to suspend the practice of the city buying back up to seven unused vacation days at the end of the year, saving another $29,000.
The trade-offs were part of a memorandum of understanding between police and the city that Council approved Tuesday. It guarantees there will be no police layoffs.
The no-layoff pledge was significant, Chief Robert L. James said after the meeting. He said the department would have lost two or three officers, something he said would have been “devastating” to the 23-person department.
Other police savings this year include deferring police car purchases, cutting hours for department secretaries and laying off the crossing guards.
The cuts come as the city, like others around the state, grapples with significant state funding cuts. City Council said Tuesday it expected municipal taxes would rise between 6 and 6.5 cents in this year’s final budget.
City Council also introduced an ordinance Tuesday that, if approved later this month, and in effect July 1, would generally increase residential sewer fees by $10 this year and $20 next year.
That would bring in $33,500 this year, city Chief Financial Officer Marilyn Dolcy said, and $67,000 next year.
The crossing guards will be formally notified today, James said. While assignments may change, he said in two weeks the city plans to stop guarding the intersections of:
n Jackson Avenue and Shore Road;
n Jackson Avenue and Fuae Avenue;
n Merrit Drive and Wabash Avenue;
n Shore Road and Yorkshire Avenue
Dolcy said the city would save $25,000 by reducing the number of guards from 16 to 11. A fifth crossing guard had died and will not be replaced.
“It’s very hard to make this decision,” Mazzeo said, “because you’re dealing with children.”
People who attended Tuesday’s meeting criticized the city for the layoffs.
Debbie Wescoat said the roads were dangerous and needed guards. Besides, the savings were minimal. “This is a false economy,” she said. “What is a child’s safety worth?”
Debbie Doherty, supervisor of the guards, said the guards provide a valuable, low-cost service that is overlooked by the city, possibly because they are non-union. The 26-year-veteran said she didn’t even receive a winter coat.
“It’s disappointing,” she said. “There were other places to cut.”
After the meeting, Doherty said “They gave the girls the notice on Thursday after they were done, after school let out for vacation. This is politics at its worst.”
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