By Ron Leir
Mary Ann Ryan feels like she and her fellow workers are being squeezed dry. And the public will feel the pinch, she says.
Last year, to prevent threatened layoffs, members of Kearny Civil Service Association’s Council 11, which bargains for the town’s civilian work force, voluntarily took a reduction of an already negotiated pay raise, accepted 26 furlough days and swallowed a two-tier longevity plan.
“There’s not much more for us to give,” says Ryan, who serves as president of Council 11. But Kearny is asking for more.
The state Civil Service Commission has greenlighted a town plan to implement economic job dismissals that would take effect Dec. 31.
Kearny was prepared to lay off employees last year as well to avoid what officials characterized as huge tax increases, but it managed to negotiate agreements with unions to avert any terminations.
“We’re in the same situation we were in last year (preparing for a projected 2011 budget shortfall),” Mayor Alberto Santos said.
Kearny officials outlined those circumstances in a Sept. 15 letter to Civil Service. They said that although they managed to reduce personnel costs by $3.7 million for the 2011 budget, “restoration of the reductions in personnel costs from 2011 combined with implementation of contractually negotiated or awarded wage increases for 2012 will only . . . widen the gap (between appropriations and revenues) that must be closed to comply with the law and deliver a balanced budget.”
To that end, Kearny is moving ahead with a plan that would combine a series of demotions and layoffs spread among the ranks to lighten municipal payroll expenses, plus operational reductions.
Santos said the town “is hoping to negotiate with each employee bargaining unit sufficient givebacks, or there will be (enough) retirements so we don’t have to do the layoffs authorized (by Civil Service).”
The layoff plan filed with the state calls for these personnel moves:
In the non-uniformed ranks, the town proposes the elimination of nine positions and their current job holders. These are: construction code enforcement clerk Elizabeth Wainman, assistant tax collector James Waller, Health Department agency aide Theresa Marrazzo, Health Department bus operator Karen Greb, senior librarian Kerry Kosick, and four public works employees – sanitation inspectors Paul Ashe and Marcella Callaghan, park attendant Ronald Ciccone and clerk-typist Fatima Fowlkes.
In the Police Department, the town plans to demote Dep. Chief James Corbett to captain; Capt. Gregory Reed to lieutenant; Lts. David Montgomery and Charles Fergie to sergeant; Sgts. Anthony Limite, Richard Poplaski and Michael Cardella to police officer. Officers Sean Kelly and Richard Pawlowski would be terminated. Additionally, the demotions – through the process known as “bumping” – would trigger the layoffs of seven additional officers not yet named. Also, two civilians assigned to the Police Department – senior clerk-typist Lorraine Clifford and parking enforcement officer Willard Sanders – would lose their jobs.
Ironically, on Oct. 11, the Town Council approved pay raises for the department’s three deputy chiefs, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2007. The deputies will get a 3% hike for 2007 and annual increases of 3.25% for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, with base salary rising from $131,773 to $154,624 over the life of the contract.
In the Fire Department, the town plans to demote Capts. Harry Fearon, Gerard Nardone, Joseph Mastandrea and Edward Agnew to firefighter. Firefighters Joseph Ferraro, Ian Kaneshige, Martina Smith, Brian Kirkpatrick, James Kroll, David Vassie and Darell Szezypta would be terminated and, through the bumping process, four additional firefighters not yet named would be laid off. Also: Mary Ann Ryan, the Council 11 president who works as a principal clerk-typist at Fire Headquarters, is targeted for termination.
Under the proposed layoff scenario, Kearny would save about $3.9 million in salaries and benefits (roughly $1.5 million for the Police Department; about $1.4 million for the Fire Department, and about $1 million for the civilians); and about $1.2 million in operational costs to stave off a $5 million budget shortfall, Santos said.
Since that plan was filed, however, Santos said the town learned that it would realize a credit of about $1.4 million from the state on its annual employee pension contribution.
That means, Santos said, that the town will need to generate only about $2.9 million in savings for personnel and between $900,000 and $1 million for operational costs. And, in turn, it means that the numbers in the layoff plan could be revised downward, he added.
Retirements could also help bring down those numbers, Santos said. As of Jan. 1, 2012, 33 employees (12 in the Police Department, nine in the Fire Department, two crossing guards and 10 civilians) become eligible to retire, he said. However, that is tempered by the fact that for 2011, the town is already on the hook for more than $500,000 in terminal leave payments covering 16 retirees, Santos said.
Worst-case scenario for the Fire Department if the current layoff schedule holds could be the loss of one of its current six fire companies, Fire Chief Steve Dyl said. “But that’s all up in the air.”
Jeff Bruder, president of the Kearny fire officers union, and Jim Carey, head of the rank-and-file union, said they planned to meet with Rutgers professor Ray Caprio to review the town’s proposal and to see if savings can be achieved through non-layoff avenues.
Glenn Reed, president of the Kearny police officers union, said he preferred not to comment now.
But Council 11’s Ryan warned that the civilian layoffs would hamper public services.
It will take “twice as long,” she said, to process building permits and to arrange for inspections of home repairs and restaurants. Additionally, Ryan noted, the town will lose out on thousands of dollars in ticket revenues by cutting a parking enforcement officer, English-challenged residents will be hampered by the loss of bilingual clerks in the Public Works and Building Departments, and recycling will suffer from the lack of sanitary inspectors to enforce separation of waste products.