Council Rejects Further Delay, Adopts Budget
The 4-3 vote came only after some verbal sparring between council members who sought to wrap up the budget and move on to cost-cutting measures in the next budget cycle, and those wanting the last-ditch effort. Council members William Reid, Rashid Burney and Bridget Rivers voted “no,” while Cory Storch, Adrian Mapp, Linda Carter and City Council President Annie McWilliams voted “yes.”
The council received a budget from the administration late last year that reflected a 9.6 percent tax increase, but introduced amendments Feb. 8 that reduced the increase to 7.5 percent. Although the city has a half-dozen bargaining units, Plainfield Municipal Employees Association President Cynthia Smith said her union is taking the brunt of layoffs announced last fall. Fifteen employees among the lowest-paid ranks will be out of work as of today.
Smith and affected workers have spoken out at every council meeting since the layoffs were announced. Again on Tuesday, Smith deplored the layoffs, especially that of a 34-year employee with singular knowledge of the city’s infrastructure. Four years from retirement, the person has no “bumping rights” and will take his expertise with him when he goes.
“There’s your knowledge,” Smith said.
Other layoffs will affect office workers who support Recreation Division programs. Several speakers in Tuesday’s public hearing on the amendments called on the council to save the workers for the sake of residents of all ages who benefit from the programs.
“I hear about the pain,” resident Roland Crawford Muhammad said, referring to the council’s mantra of sharing the budget pain. “I can handle the pain, but our children cannot.”
Muhammad said if children can’t learn to shoot pool, they will learn to shoot guns, citing gun violence last week that resulted in the death of one man and injuries to another.
Much of the nearly two-hour meeting was taken up with discussion of the results of further delay. City Administrator Bibi Taylor said a delay would mean starting over with budget amendments. Estimated tax bills would have to be sent out, incurring extra printing costs.
But Robinson-Briggs said a state notice on bumping rights would shift employees into jobs they had no idea how to do. Someone from the City Clerk’s office is slated to go to Inspections, a secretary in the mayor’s office will go to Municipal Court.
“The bumping rights will put us in a state of chaos,” Robinson-Briggs said as she pleaded for two more weeks to sit down with the unions and find ways to avoid layoffs.
McWilliams said Civil Service bumping rights are “systemic” and there is nothing the council can do. Once the budget is adopted, she said, the administration can work with the unions.
But Reid said, “I don’t want to vote for something that is a hope.”
“I can’t believe that we are sitting here going through this loop over and over,” Mapp said as the discussion wore on.
Mapp said the council had discussed in closed session the amendments’ impact on personnel.
“We are now here at the eleventh hour and having a back-and-forth discussion,” he said, calling further delay “a disservice to the taxpayers” and asking for the vote.
Budget passage means tax bills can now be sent out, Bob Swisher of the auditing firm Supplee, Clooney said. The council on Feb. 8 approved temporary emergency appropriations for March, meaning three quarters of the budget year will have elapsed before normal tax collection.