ATLANTIC CITY - The state can move forward with plans to slash Atlantic City firefighters' pay and benefits, according to a ruling from Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez.

Mendez released the ruling just minutes before the city's police and fire unions held a rally to protest the cuts inside City Hall on Friday.

Mendez also ruled that the state can't cut the departments ranks to 125 firefighters.

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In oral arguments before Mendez last month, the union’s lawyers painted as risky a state proposal to cut the department’s staff nearly in half, citing the lack of a public study on how 100 fewer firefighters would affect public safety.

Ronald Israel, whose law firm is overseeing the city, argued the cuts are necessary to stabilize the city’s finances. He said every month that goes by without the cuts will cost the city $375,000.

The new cuts take effect on Monday. They create a new work schedule and platoon structure.

In addition, the plans cuts salaries, 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 last month and would save the city $14 million this year and $5 million per year thereafter, according to the state.

Mendez's ruling against the layoffs will not affect the 85 firefighters the department will lose when a federal grant expires in September.

The two sides must meet a least once per month going forward to discuss state designee Jeffrey Chiesa's plans to reform the department.

Contact: 609-272-7090

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