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Hartford's Layoffs May Affect Services Residents Value

By JEFFREY B. COHEN | The Hartford Courant

October 30, 2008

As the city continues layoffs in an effort to trim its deficits, the effects of the cuts on services are already generating talk.

The layoffs aren't done yet they're being staggered, the city says, and only 34 of the 56 people losing their jobs have actually lost them, as of early this week. At least two people have been laid off and then brought back.

But there are a few early trends and interesting items on the lists of laid-off employees, retired employees and unfilled positions circulating at city hall. The city is losing one of the two rodent baiters it has to catch rats on city property; it will soon have fewer experienced planners in its development services division; and the person one councilman called the backbone of the recreation department is retiring.

Mayor Eddie A. Perez cut his own staff of 24 people by five. All appeared to be entry- or mid-level employees, including communications aide Ramon Espinoza and legislative aide Derek Donnelly.

But it's the city's public works and human services departments that are so far the hardest hit by number. Of the 132 positions in the city to be lost to layoffs, retirements and downsizing, public works is going down 34 employees, and health and human services is going down 17. Department directors Clarence Corbin and Carlos Rivera did not return calls for comment.

A question for city council members is whether Corbin's shrunken staff will be able to keep up with tasks residents value leaf collection, snow removal, street repairs, garbage collection and park maintenance. The city's emphasis on parks has "gone to nothing, both from an anecdotal sense where you see that it's not as well kept, but also from pure numbers," Working Families city Councilman Luis Cotto said.

Democrats on the city council are concerned. Majority Leader rJo Winch said she hopes to be able to bring some of those parks employees back; Kenneth Kennedy says the city already gets calls about the state of its parks and snow removal efforts; and Matt Ritter said that if the city's departments can't handle the cuts the mayor has exacted, the council can rectify things, come the next budget cycle.

"At budget time, we have a chance to correct the imbalance if we see one," Ritter said. During the next few months, "you'll see people really pay attention."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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