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City Layoffs Loom

By Jeffrey B. Cohen

May 27, 2009

The city has warned its department heads that layoffs and a possible early retirement incentive program could be in the immediate future if deals are not reached in budget talks with various city unions, sources familiar with the meeting told Cityline.

Chief Operating Officer Lee Erdmann and the city's personnel staff told department heads that they would likely start going over lists of potential layoffs this week, sources said. They also said that a retirement incentive package was still on the table, but that everything was contingent on the as-yet-unfinished city budget.

Mayor Eddie A. Perez proposed a $547.6 million budget with a 13 percent, or $378-a-year, increase for the average homeowner. Small businesses looked to pay much more.

Last fall, the city began layoffs that led to the shrinking of its non-public-safety staff of roughly 130 positions. In the past six months, Perez told the council, the city and the board of education together have reduced their staffs by a total of 190 positions. The board is projecting more job eliminations for the next school year.

Perez decided against layoffs in his proposed budget, but was criticized by many on the council who said the mayor's tax increase was too high and left them the job of making cuts.

The layoffs, though, would not come as a surprise. Last week, the council cut the mayor's budget by roughly $19 million -- $6.4 million of that came from salaries and benefits. That would mean layoffs should there be no concessions from city unions.

On Friday, Perez vetoed several of the council's amendments to the budget -- including the $6.4 million figure. Instead, he proposed a $3.2 million cut. The council met last night to vote on whether to override the mayor's vetoes. It took some action, but postponed the vote on staffing and other measures until tomorrow at noon.

Yesterday, police union leader Richard Rodriguez -- a spokesman for the union and taxpayer group Hartford Public Services Coalition -- said deals with the city weren't even close.

Sarah Barr, Perez's spokeswoman, said today that the council's $6.4 million cut could mean 120 layoffs, including police officers.

"Since that possibility still exists," Barr said, "department heads need to be prepared for layoffs to be implemented in the coming weeks."

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