LINDEN, NJ – Linden’s tight fiscal straits could oblige it to lay off as many as 31 police officers within the next few weeks, according to paperwork filed with state authorities.
The layoff plan was necessitated by the police union’s overwhelming rejection of a concession package offered by city administrators earlier this year as they worked to plug a $5.2 million budget hole, Mayor Richard Gerbounka said.
The mayor, a former city police captain, was unsparing in his criticism of union members for what he called their unwillingness to strike a bargain to save their colleagues’ jobs.
“It’s not something the city of Linden should be proud of but it’s something the (police union) forced on us to due to their lack of caring for their fellow officers,” he said this afternoon. “I support the council on it.”
The city council could vote on the layoff plan, which is projected to save the city $1.2 million annually, as early as next month. The layoffs would go into effect on Aug. 9.
That plan could be scaled back, Gerbouka said, depending on the layoffs’ time frame and pending any further and successful negotiations with the police union.
The city had asked, among other things, that officers give back this year’s nearly 4 percent raise as well as a portion of sick days and other negotiated allowances. The city’s fire department unions earlier this year voted to accept a concession package, the mayor said.
Police union president Joseph Birch, though, said the administration declined to properly consider a union counterproposal that also would have cancelled raises and called for additional contributions toward officer benefits.
“We came up with a plan that would cost them nothing this year and next year,” he said.
Birch, a detective, said the layoffs, if carried out according to the city’s notification to the state Civil Service Commission last week, would cost Linden over $400,000 in unemployment benefits.
“I don’t know why they would want to spend that money and have officers sitting at home,” he said.
Birch, a 17-year veteran and lifelong city resident, said the police rank-and-file sympathized with the city’s fiscal plight but said the layoff plan could potentially affect public safety.
“Our call volume does nothing but go up every year,” he said.
Birch said the layoff would trim duty shifts by at least two officers. The department currently deploys 15 officers during the daytime and 18 at night, he said.
The plan also calls for the layoff of six recruits currently going through the academy and the demotion of nine senior officers. Should all of the layoffs take place the department would lose more than 25 percent of its 131 uniformed officers, Birch said.
Although one-day-a-week furloughs of non-essential employees are also planned, Gerbounka said that the city would likely begin charging residents for garbage pickups.
Despite a relatively flat $99 million budget, the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap and a tapping out of the city’s once-significant reserve funds forced the city to impose the layoff plan, Gerbounka and city administrators said.
From The Star-Ledger