The city layoffs that began Friday could be followed by more layoffs later in the year depending on the city's budget, Mayor Eddie A. Perez said.
It's not a prospect Perez said he looks forward to, likening Friday's layoffs to "swallowing a bitter pill all at once." But the city's daunting deficits — $6 million last year, $8 million this year, roughly $40 million next year — forced his hand, he said.
All together, the city is shrinking its non-public safety staff by 132 positions. Thirty vacant positions won't be filled, 46 people took the city's early retirement package, and 56 people will be laid off. Of those laid off, Perez — in a "press only" press conference held in his City Hall office — said 26 were city residents. Perez said his mandate to all of his department heads was to reduce staff by 20 percent.
Perez said residents would notice some changes in city services as a result of the layoffs, but he wouldn't elaborate.
Clarke King, head of one of the city employee unions, said he was frustrated both by the layoffs and the way they were carried out. Despite what he said was a contract provision that mandates that the city must tell him who is being laid off, he knew very little Friday afternoon.
"They should have let me know," King said.
Perez has taken some criticism for his spending decisions from critics on the city council, but he blamed the city's fiscal situation on declining revenue from the city's own sources as well as from the state.
Just a few months into the current budget, Perez said the job reductions wouldn't save the city much money this year — but would likely save it nearly $6 million next year. Next year's deficit, though, is now projected at roughly $40 million. That could change when the city does its first-quarter budget report to the council.
"It's sad," said Mike Howell, a former finance department employee, who left city hall Friday with a box of his belongings. Howell, 62, had been with the city roughly 12 years — long enough to look at what he said was a growing payroll and a gathering problem. "The real problem is we have too many upper management staff."
Pedro Segarra, the head of the city council's budget committee, said the layoffs were done without the council's input. "I think that the administration is thinking they can do layoffs any which way they want to," he said. "But I think the council has an ability to prioritize which services they want to maintain and which they don't."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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