AC City Hall

Atlantic City City Hall, exterior, Wednesday October 13, 2010

Atlantic City’s layoff plan would reduce the Fire Department by more than a third and deplete a Recreation Department that the mayor’s chief of staff said wasn’t meeting the city’s needs.

The Civil Service Commission approved the plan Friday, a week after the city submitted it, said commission spokesman Peter Lyden. The full plan is expected to be released to The Press of Atlantic City later this week as the result of a public records request. But some details became apparent Monday.

The nearly 200 positions in the layoff plan include 40 of the 52 employees in the Recreation Department, along with 85 firefighters, according to Chris Filiciello, the mayor’s chief of staff. The city will look to nonprofits and community leaders to provide recreation for the city’s youth.

Sworn police are not expected to be on the list, as Mayor Don Guardian previously said the city would soon need to replenish its ranks since it could fall below even the reduced number suggested by Emergency Manager Kevin Lavin.

Leaders of the city’s unions said they have been given no details about the layoffs.

“We’ve got to try to find out so we can kind of get a grip on what’s happening,” said James Little, who heads the blue collar union. “There’s a lot of things we’re taking on in house.”

The Fire Department’s 36 percent reduction — from 236 firefighters to 151 — would save the city only the salaries and benefits for 35 positions, since 50 are currently paid under a federal grant that would end with any layoffs. It also likely would close two firehouses — including the one nearest Ventnor — according to a plan previously submitted by recently retired Fire Chief Dennis Brooks.

Based on seniority, all 30 of the firefighters laid off more than four years ago now stand to lose their jobs again, Fire Union President Chris Emmell said.

Guardian tried working with the fire union, Filiciello said, but instead was forced to go into arbitration, which the union is now challenging.

"The mayor views every firefighter as a hero, and has the utmost respect for the firefighters,” Filiciello said. “But unfortunately, their union has not come up with a solution to save money at this point."

Emmell said that is not true.

"We came to him numerous times to tell him how to save money and generate money for the city, and he turned us down," Emmell said. "This is just a ploy. The mayor’s letting down the residents in the city of Atlantic City."

Talk of cutting recreation personnel brought a crowd to the April 8 City Council meeting.

But Filiciello said Monday the plan is to improve the way the city handles recreation.

"We have found that programs have not been up to the highest standards that we would want for our youth to be participating in, therefore we will be looking to partner with nonprofit organizations and different community leaders to offer the best possible recreation program there is," he said. "Almost every other city models their recreation program this way."

Virginia Darnell, who heads the city’s white collar union, said the administration’s view of recreation was surprising.

“(The mayor) has been in office for a year and five months now, and you’re going to make a statement like that?” she asked. “He’s had an opportunity to try to improve these programs.”

The layoffs have been discussed for 14 months, so the cuts should not be unexpected, Filiciello said.

"From the beginning we knew we had to be downsized by 300 to 400 employees," he said. "So far, we’re down about 200 positions through aggressive attrition. Submitting a layoff plan was the final piece to that puzzle."

In March, Filiciello and Emergency Manager Kevin Lavin said the city was considering cutting its workforce from approximately 1,189 to between 850 and 900.

City Council President Frank Gilliam said Monday he has not seen the plan. The City Council is not directly involved in the layoff process, which is controlled by Guardian's administration.

Once the city has the full approval, layoff notices can go out. Employees must be notified at least 45 days before the layoff take effect. If the notices went out by the end of the week, layoffs could not begin until the third week of June.

"We’re holding up our end of commitment to better services at a lower cost," Filiciello said. "We continue to work with the emergency manager in demonstrating our commitment and are hoping (the state administration is) also continuing their commitment to providing funding for us as we transition during this difficult financial time."

Contact Lynda Cohen:

609-272-7257

@LyndaCohen on Twitter

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