ATLANTIC CITY — Will there be layoffs at cash-strapped City Hall?
“To be determined,” Mayor Don Guardian told workers last week.
Guardian answered frequently asked questions in a staff letter obtained by The Press of Atlantic City. The letter touched on the budget, early retirement and the fiscal plan to avoid a state takeover, among other topics.
Guardian explained a four-step process that will take place if cost savings are found in bids to outsource city services. The city is seeking proposals for trash and recycling collection, towing, payroll and emergency dispatch, among other services.
First, the administration will provide information to the department head and union president representing affected workers, Guardian wrote. The city will “attempt to change our in-house management to meet the savings of privatizing,” said the letter issued Friday.
If that’s not successful, the city will work with the new service provider to “retain as many city employees as possible,” Guardian wrote.
Those not hired would be considered for other openings, and if all else fails, the mayor wrote that his employment and jobs training program is there to help. It has placed 600 people into jobs, he said.
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The city is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and has structural budget deficits topping $100 million before state aid. Its ratable base has plummeted two-thirds since 2008.
Asked about the letter, Guardian said “everybody” has asked the city to see whether the “private sector can provide the same services for less.” Rather than have “everyone worry about every service,” he said he wanted to specify the services for which the city is seeking bids. His letter listed nine services being looked at.
“We have to consider it,” Guardian said by phone. “As (the bids) come in, we'll vet them to make sure they’re accurate.”
Workers are still being paid monthly after agreeing in April to change the pay schedule to avoid a government shutdown. A two-week pay cycle can resume only when the city has “budgetary stability,” which is “most likely” in January, Guardian wrote.
He also addressed the soon-to-be introduced budget (“a huge decrease of $23 million”), the five-year fiscal plan (“will be completed ahead of schedule”) and early retirements (“we are evaluating the affordability ... and the impact on city operations”).
An attorney representing the city’s white-collar workers union sent a letter to the city two weeks earlier, claiming the city “disregarded its negotiations obligations” in seeking bids for some services.
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“These precipitous undertakings without notice by management to the union or negotiations with the union is in violation of PERC statutes,” the attorney, Robert O’Brien of O’Brien, Belland & Bushinsky, wrote in the letter dated July 29. PERC refers to the state Public Employment Relations Commission.
The letter noted the union’s cooperation with the city during its fight against a state takeover bill, a version of which became law in May. The letter said the city’s “disregard” of that union support “out of takeover fear” is unfortunate.
Guardian said the city must receive the bids first before discussing cost savings for those services.
“I don’t have anything to tell them until we do the bids,” he said.
Virginia Darnell, president of the Atlantic City White Collar Professional Association, said the union will review bids that come in for privatizing services and do what it can to save jobs.
“It really seems like the state has tied the city’s hands by not giving the city the money they need to operate,” she said.
Guardian’s letter said the city still hasn’t received the $73 million state bridge loan. But city and state officials said they expect the first draw of the loan — $13.5 million — to be received before the end of the week.