N.J. City Plans to Lay Off Five Firefighters

Nov. 14--PLEASANTVILLE -- The city will lay off five firefighters and is planning to make several other changes in anticipation of a nearly $1 million shortfall next year. The loss of Urban Enterprise Zone funding from the state will leave the city short of about $983,000 every year, based on the city's five-year projection, Administrator Linda Peyton said in a phone interview Wednesday. Gov. Chris Christie cut UEZ funding in July 2011 as part of a three percent decrease to the state's budget.

To make up for the anticipated shortfall, the city will reduce its work force and leave vacancies unfilled. Peyton said about 67 percent of the city's budget is salaries and benefits.

The reduction in staff will include firefighters and workers within City Hall. There will also be a reorganization to move former Urban Enterprise Zone employees to other positions within the city. Supervisors and other middle management positions will be eliminated, and some staff will be demoted, officials said.

The first round of cuts was approved Nov. 1, by the state Civil Service Commission, for notices to be sent to firefighters today, according to spokesman Peter Lyden. He said the commission approved the layoffs due to information provided by the city about loss of state funding.

This leaves a total of 42 firefighters on staff in the city, and saves the city and taxpayers about $700,000, Peyton said. In addition, the city will be leaving vacant positions unfilled, which is expected to be a total of three by next year.

"Of course we never want to see anyone lose their jobs," said City Council President Judy Ward. "This is one of the worst times to lay anybody off."

But the lack of state funding, in addition to the city's decision not to apply for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER Grant, has contributed to the shortfall in the budget.

A SAFER Grant helps fund the hiring of public safety employees, although after a certain time the burden is transferred to the city.

"We knew we would not be able to sustain" any new employees, Ward said. So the city did not apply for the grant.

Peyton explained that the firefighters are certified as emergency medical technicians, which the city will no longer need when it switches to outsourcing its ambulance services.

The city is in discussion with Linwood to be added to its service agreement with Shore Medical Center, she said.

Linwood sought bids for emergency medical services in 2012 and approved a contract with Shore Medical Center in August. Northfield also approved a shared service agreement with Linwood, to use Shore, a week later.

If Pleasantville is unable to join the shared service agreement, the city will put out a bid request for emergency medical services, Peyton said.

"This avenue does not decrease or eliminate the current service to residents," Peyton said.

Peyton added that the city made the cuts in order to save taxpayers money and avoid having to increase taxes next year.

The Police Department has not been affected by the cuts, but police Chief Jose Ruiz said the department is already understaffed.

Ruiz said an ideal staffing level would be 55 employees, but the department has only 42.

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Copyright 2013 - The Press of Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.