The slow drip of city layoffs announced by Mayor Eddie A. Perez three months ago continues, with five more employees losing their jobs to a slumping economy and a tightening city budget.
Last fall, Perez said that he planned to shrink the city's non-public safety staff by 132 positions to help close looming budget deficits — roughly $8.5 million this year, potentially $40 million next year. The layoffs prompted some concern on the city council that services most notable and valued by residents would be hurt.
The five latest layoffs — four from the department of public works and one from the department of health and human services — bring the total number of laid-off employees to 36, according to the city's count. A dozen more could still be laid off, about 50 people have taken the city's early retirement plan and 30 vacant positions won't be filled.
Clarke King, head of one of the city employee unions, said that services like snow plowing and trash pickup are the ones that could suffer.
"The city doesn't have an idea what effect it's going to have on the residents, and I don't think the residents understand the effects it's going to have on essential services," King said.
The departments hardest hit by the layoffs have been public works and health and human services. In an interview in late December, Public Works Director Clarence Corbin said that staffing was getting tight.
But, as of last month, he had avoided the perfect storm — trash collection, flood control and snow removal all on the same day, he said. If that storm comes, he could run out of bodies to do the work. That would mean longer hours for current employees, or outside contractors, he said. Efforts to reach Corbin on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Councilman Luis Cotto, who represents the Working Families Party, said that although staffing is down, he's gotten good feedback so far when it comes to the city's handling of storms.
"Maybe it's relative, maybe their expectations are low, but it's always good to hear," Cotto said. He's keeping an eye, though, on things like Christmas trees and futons on the curbs. "I'd be interested to see how long these Christmas trees stay out there. It's going to make a difference with bulky items."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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