The weekend was marked by budget constraints, layoffs, program cutbacks — not on Wall Street, but on Church Street, where at New Haven’s City Hall nearly three dozen employees were laid off Friday amid a struggling economy and citywide budget crunch.
A total of 34 New Haven city employees across 12 departments and the Board of Education were notified of their dismissal Friday morning, City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga announced in a press release Friday. The move, which will save New Haven $900,000, is one of a number of cost-saving measures the city is implementing to fill the projected $6 million hole in the current budget for fiscal year 2008-’09 . Unions and affected employees expressed disappointment with the city’s handling of the layoffs but said they will move forward by working to secure the best severance packages possible.
Friday’s workforce reductions affected six Board of Education employees and 28 city workers, with the departments of Public Works and Parks, Recreation & Trees hit the hardest; those departments lost eight and six employees, respectively.
Community Services, the Finance Department, the New Haven Free Public Library and the Fire and Police departments were among other impacted sectors.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced last Tuesday the city’s plans to lay off nearly three dozen employees, whom he referred to as “mid-level management” city personnel, but the specifics of the job cuts were not made available until this weekend.
The majority of the employees who were let go were members of Local 3144, the city management union, its president, Larry Amendola, said. Amendola said Local 3144 offered concessions in a meeting with city administrators Monday in an attempt to forestall employee dismissals, but those concessions were not enough.
While Amendola said he understands the challenges involved with maintaining a working city budget, he said he was disappointed with the way the mayor’s administration went about administering the job cuts.
“The biggest concern I’ve had over and over again [is that] I just don’t like the way they did it,” he said, noting that employees were notified of their dismissal on the same day they were told was their last on the job. And, Amendola said, many of the affected employees have served the city for years — some as many as 20 or 30.
“We notified the employees as soon as we were prepared to do so, and that was Friday,” Mayorga said in response.
Amendola said he will meet with affected members of his union in the coming days to discuss severance packages and other employment options, as well as the possibility for some employees to “bump” up to other positions.
“We just have to make the best of it,” Amendola said.
Affected employees will have a choice of two separation packages, each offering different combinations of payouts, severance pay, health care and services from the Employee Assistance Program, the city press release said.
Len Aronow, a union 3144 member who was among those let go Friday, worked for the city for a total of 24-and-a-half years. Aronow served as a senior public advocate for the mayor’s office until July, when he was dismissed from that job but qualified to be “bumped” to the Police Department, where he then worked as a senior crime analyst.
While Aronow said he was thankful at the time to be relocated, he said he “truly didn’t think [he] was going to be affected by this round of layoffs.”
“It hurts,” Aranow said, especially because he and the other laid-off workers were let go for economic reasons beyond their control.
“You sit there and you wonder what you did wrong,” Aronow said solemnly, adding later, “Nobody did anything wrong. I guess it’s the economy.”
But above all, Aronow, whose father was a New Haven alderman, said he regrets that he no longer will be able to serve the city.
“I do miss what I was doing, you know, helping the public,” he said. “The people make this city. That’s why I was very fortunate to land the position I did.”
The 57-year-old Aronow, who is five-and-a-half years away from the 30 years of work required to receive the maximum level of retirement pay, said he hopes negotiations will allow him to receive that maximum amount.
The impact of the layoffs will be felt citywide. The New Haven library system and several city parks, for example, will see reduced hours and programs, and the eviction process— overseen by the Department of Public Works — will become slower. In addition, New Haven public schools will receive less administrative monitoring of teachers and curricula.
DeStefano approved the cuts in order to maintain the quality of government services offered to New Haven residents without having to increase taxes, Mayorga said in the press release.
The mayor has cited both a slowing national economy and a projected state government deficit as cause for the city to implement money-saving measures of its own, she explained.