Coun­cil mem­bers pro­pose lay­offs

Re­duc­tion in man­age­ment po­si­tions sought

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­pub.com

A hand­ful of city of Newark em­ploy­ees could lose their jobs next year if a few coun­cil mem­bers get their way.

The staff re­duc­tions – which would only af­fect man­age­ment-level em­ploy­ees – were brought up Mon­day dur­ing a hear­ing on the city’s 2018 bud­get.

“It’s not easy, it’s not pop­u­lar, but it’s nec­es­sary,” Coun­cil­man Jerry Clifton said.

Coun­cil re­jected the pro­posed bud­get Mon­day, cit­ing con­cerns over the size of city gov­ern­ment and a pro­posal to fi­nance cap­i­tal projects through debt fi­nanc­ing.

It failed by a vote of 3-4, with Clifton, Chris Hamil­ton, Mark More­head and Jen Wal­lace op­posed. Act­ing City Man­ager Tom Cole­man will make re­vi­sions to the bud­get and bring it back for a vote next month.

The $87.4 mil­lion bud­get con­tains no tax hike or in­creases to wa­ter, sewer or elec­tric rates. It does, how­ever, in­clude the monthly stormwa­ter fee that was ap­proved last month. Un­der the fee, res­i­dents will pay be­tween $1.77 and $5.31 each month, which for the av­er­age res­i­dent is akin to a 7 per­cent tax in­crease.

“This is a con­ser­va­tive bud­get we feel will pro­vide a solid foun­da­tion for the next city man­ager to build off as they de­velop their vi­sion for where Newark heads from here,” Cole­man said, urg­ing coun­cil to ap­prove the bud­get Mon­day. He called this year the long­est and most pub­lic bud­get process in the city’s his­tory, not­ing that it be­gan in July when coun­cil be­gan hear­ing bud­get re­quests from each de­part­ment.

It quickly be­came ap­par­ent, though, that a ma­jor­ity of the coun­cil still had con­cerns.

A ma­jor stick­ing point was the cost of per­son­nel. Salar­ies and ben­e­fits add up to $32 mil­lion, or ap­prox­i­mately 37 per­cent of the bud­get.

The 2018 bud­get in­cludes no new po­si­tions, but per­son­nel costs are up 4.4 per­cent from last year, mostly due to raises dic­tated by union con­tracts and an in­crease in the city’s con­tri­bu­tion to the pen­sion fund.

The city’s work­force has in­creased 6 per­cent – from 234 em­ploy­ees to 249 – in the past decade, Cole­man said.

Clifton, who made con­cerns over grow­ing per­son­nel costs a cen­tral part of his cam­paign in April, said he would like to see the city cut at least $300,000 in per­son­nel costs from the bud­get.

In an in­ter­view Tues­day, he said he has four po­si­tions in mind, but de­clined to name them out of re­spect for the in­di­vid­ual em­ploy­ees. Clifton said those po­si­tions are “unique po­si­tions” that in­volve du­ties that can be re­as­signed.

“They’re unique enough that there are some good op­tions for cross-train­ing other peo­ple to do those jobs,” he said.

He said the process of con­sid­er­ing lay­offs is “emo­tion­ally drain­ing.”

“You’re not out to hurt the em­ploy­ees; you’re out to do the best thing for the city,” he said.

Both Clifton and More­head are tar­get­ing man­age­ment em­ploy­ees, not those lower in the or­ga­ni­za­tional chart.

“I’d like to put a stake in the ground and set­tle all the peo­ple who think they’re go­ing to lose their jobs to­mor­row morn­ing,” More­head said. “We aren’t talk­ing about the front lines.”

He noted that coun­cil can only di­rectly af­fect man­age­ment po­si­tions. He de­clined to pro­vide a num­ber of cuts he wants to see but said it is less than six.

“I’d like peo­ple to un­der­stand we aren’t talk­ing about the folks that are dig­ging ditches and the folks that are keep­ing us safe and the folks that are pump­ing wa­ter and so forth,” he added. “We’re talk­ing ef­fi­cien­cies and some re­dun­dan­cies.”

How­ever, Cole­man warned that re­duc­ing the city’s work­force would have con­se­quences.

“There aren’t peo­ple here that are just sit­ting around wait­ing for some­thing to hap­pen,” he said. “If we re­duce per­son­nel, we’re go­ing to have to re­duce ser­vice.”

Coun­cil­man Stu Markham had sim­i­lar con­cerns.

“Peo­ple equal ser­vice,” Markham said. “We al­ways talk about ‘com­mit­ted to ser­vice ex­cel­lence’ and how great our peo­ple are. I worry how do we main­tain that if we don’t have the peo­ple.”

An­other con­cern from some coun­cil mem­bers was the pro­posal to change the way the city funds the cap­i­tal im­prove­ment plan, which in­cludes ex­pen­sive projects meant to serve the city for many years. Rather than pay­ing for the projects with cash in this year’s bud­get, the city would use bonds and loans that could be paid off over a num­ber of years.

The CIP is ap­prox­i­mately $14.7 mil­lion and un­der the pro­posal, $7.7 mil­lion would be fi­nanced through bonds and loans, and $1.4 mil­lion would be funded with cur­rent rev­enue, with the rest cov­ered by grants, re­serves and other sources. Last year’s bud­get funded $4.1 mil­lion of the CIP with cur­rent rev­enue.

Do­ing so would re­quire tax­pay­ers to ap­prove a ref­er­en­dum au­tho­riz­ing the city to take on debt. The city is al­ready plan­ning a ref­er­en­dum on the Rod­ney stormwa­ter project next June, and the CIP bonds likely would be placed as a sec­ond ques­tion on the same bal­lot.

“The city has max­i­mized its abil­ity to uti­lize the ‘payas-you-go’ method of fund­ing cap­i­tal projects,” Fi­nance Di­rec­tor David Del Grande said. “It has come to the point where Newark’s cap­i­tal pro­gram will need to be frozen un­til we are able to use ei­ther se­cure bond fi­nanc­ing and/ or the state’s re­volv­ing loan pro­gram to pro­vide fis­cal re­lief to fund­ing its long-term projects.”

Sev­eral of the coun­cil mem­bers said they sup­port us­ing bond fund­ing for big-ticket items like the Rod­ney stormwa­ter project but not nec­es­sar­ily small items. Cole­man’s pro­posal uses bond fi­nanc­ing for a num­ber of smaller-scale projects, such as new play­ground equip­ment and up­dated sur­veil­lance cam­eras.

“My com­fort level is a lit­tle wob­bly with fund­ing th­ese smaller projects,” Wal­lace said. “I’m con­cerned we’re set­ting a prece­dent.”

More­head com­pared bond fi­nanc­ing to a res­i­dent tak­ing out a bank loan, “which makes sense for things like my house, not for things like my gro­cery bill.”

Clifton used a sim­i­lar anal­ogy.

“You don’t pay your food bill on credit card, and I see this as do­ing just that,” he said. “I’m ex­tremely un­com­fort­able.”

Cole­man also pro­posed monthly ser­vice fees of $1 each on wa­ter and sewer bills as a way to re­coup some of the fixed costs of pro­vid­ing the ser­vices, though the bud­get is not de­pen­dent on those fees.

“Tech­nol­ogy, the con­ser­va­tion of re­sources and ed­u­ca­tion has led to lower con­sump­tion by those we serve, re­sult­ing in the in­abil­ity to prop­erly re­cover the rev­enues nec­es­sary to meet our ex­penses,” Cole­man ex­plained at an ear­lier bud­get work­shop. “In­fra­struc­ture needs to be there re­gard­less of us­age lev­els. Al­ter­na­tive en­ergy users still rely on the city’s grid.”

He also pro­posed a $1-per­home­owner fee to help in­crease the city’s sub­ven­tion pay­ment to Aetna Hose, Hook and Lad­der Com­pany from $74,000 to $224,000. Aetna is a mostly vol­un­teer fire de­part­ment and has seen its calls for ser­vice in­crease while its fund­ing has de­clined.

Coun­cil will dis­cuss the bud­get again dur­ing a spe­cial meet­ing on Dec. 4.

NEWARK POST PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

Coun­cil­man Jerry Clifton said he has a plan to elim­i­nate four po­si­tions and re­dis­tribute those du­ties to other em­ploy­ees.

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