Citing the Village's $5.1 million budget deficit, the Board of Trustees voted Monday to submit a draft layoff plan to the state Department of Personnel that would cut 14 jobs from the payroll.
Under the terms of the plan, five jobs would be cut from the Department of Public Works, two from Recreation and Cultural Affairs, four from Code Enforcement, one from the Municipal Court, and two from the Library.
The resolution was passed by a vote of 4-2, with Stacey Jennings and Terriann Moore-Abrams voting against, saying they wanted to ensure that the measure was a last resort.
"I've been laid off, I've laid off people—it's not easy," said Village President Douglas Newman. "These are difficult times for everybody." He cited the 26 percent municipal tax increase included in a preliminary 2009 budget as creating the necessity for the proposed cuts. The Village is anticipating savings of $1 million in 2009 and $1.5 million in 2010 if the layoffs go forward.
The meeting room Monday evening was filled with Village employees—many from Public Works—who spoke about how the layoffs would reduce services and lower the quality of life in South Orange and urged the Trustees to table the resolution. Several raised the specter of outsourcing and spoke of going above and beyond the call of duty in their jobs.
"These layoffs will be detrimental to every single [resident's] quality of life," said Mike Candarella of Fairfield, a 20-year Public Works employee and the shop steward for OPEIU Local 32, the union that represents Village employees in departments including Public Works, Recreation and the municipal court. He said that Public Works employees' dedication encompasses responding to a 3 a.m. call to remove a fallen tree from a street and emptying overflowing garbage cans on Sloan Street four or fime times a day.
"If this was outsourced, the company's going to walk through, pick up the cans and leave," he said.
"You need to reconsider," said Jerry Caprio of Cranford, a Public Works employee since 1994, who asserted that the department is already understaffed with a work force that's dwindled from 28 to 21 since he began. "We're out there doing private clean-ups because a house is abandoned and the grass is too high, and it's across the street from someone's house, and they don't like how it looks."
In his comments, Newman said that a reduction of services was more likely than outsourcing jobs to private companies because of the Village's financial straits. "More likely, this is going to result in a diminution of services," he said.
While the possibility of layoffs has been raised in the budget workshops the Trustees have held this winter—during which they confer with department heads—the news came as a surprise to some affected. Judy Wukitsch, who's an assistant director in the Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs and runs the Pierro Gallery, said she was told at 4 p.m. yesterday by Village Administrator John Gross that her job was on the short list to be cut.
"It makes me question the vision of the town and where we're going to go if the bottom line is always money," she said during the public comment period.
If approved by the Department of Personnel—which must respond within 30 days—the draft plan would have to be approved again by the Board of Trustees to take effect. The employees would then be given notice of 45 days.