Another Mass. city under staffed as is,gets more cuts!
Police and fire hit by layoffs
By ALAN BURKE
and SEAN CORCORAN
PEABODY -- Four firefighters and four police officers were to be told last night that they are being laid off, bringing to 15 the number of city workers who have been let go during the past two months in the face of cuts in state aid.
Five City Hall workers were axed in May, and two people in the Health Department were given notices two weeks ago. All but one of those workers have since departed, said Personnel Director Heidi Henson.
"Next week we'll send out several more notices," said a downcast Mayor Mike Bonfanti. He estimated that as things stand today, as many as 70 people may lose their jobs before the fiscal year 2004 budget is balanced. But that number could change.
"We're trying to be flexible based on what the final budget might be," he said. "We're still trying to do everything we can to save people."
City officials are hoping to cut $3.4 million from its fiscal year 2004 budget, which kicks in July 1. The budget still must be approved by the City Council, which will get its first look at the mayor's spending plan tonight. The budget totaled slightly more than $111 million this fiscal year.
The mayor blamed Gov. Mitt Romney and the Legislature for the job losses and warned that if Beacon Hill fails to pass a pending early retirement package for cities and towns, matters will swiftly grow worse.
"The Legislature is too concerned with saving Billy Bulger," he said, lamenting that cities and towns haven't been given the tools to deal with their money woes.
"This is just part of the budget crisis forced on us by Gov. Romney," the mayor added, noting that Romney has refused to consider an income tax increase.
As it is, Bonfanti estimated that as many as 21 workers on the city side of the budget and up to 47 school positions (some are not full time) are likely to be axed.
Bonfanti stressed that the process of choosing people to let go is an agonizing one, done systematically in consultation with department heads. "These are our neighbors," he said.
The public safety workers, whose names have been withheld, were to be issued notices based on seniority. They were to be given the bad news in personal interviews with their respective chiefs. The four firefighters are not regular employees, but are designated "working reserve," Henson said.
Henson explained that the date of their departure cannot yet be determined, but she added, "I don't believe that they'll be working past July 1."
City Councilor and state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis expressed optimism that the retirement package will pass the Legislature. The initiative is part of a municipal relief package that the House approved last week and the Senate is scheduled to debate on Thursday.
"I can't imagine that the Senate wouldn't go along with it," Spiliotis said.
She expressed surprise that the layoff notices were sent out before the budget was finalized.
"I thought the layoffs would come after July 1," she said.
At a May 27 meeting with the Finance Committee, city Finance Director Patty Schaffer said that about 80 city employees have expressed interest in taking advantage of any early retirement benefits that might become available.
"The early retirement would be a big thing," Finance Committee Chairman Jim Liacos said yesterday. "It would pretty much help us avoid any mandatory layoffs."
One down side to offering early retirement packages is that during the first year they are implemented, the city must absorb additional costs such as buying back sick leave. However, Liacos said savings would then be experienced in later years.