Facing further massive declines in revenues, City Manager Chuck Strome has entered into confidential discussions with the main unions in New Rochelle– Police, Fire and DPW — looking for givebacks on current contracts and threatening layoffs if the unions do not go along, sources tell Talk of the Sound. Strome has told union leaders the City can no longer honor its contractual obligations to City employees due to significant shortfalls in City revenue as a result of the economic downturn.
“The City has been meeting with the labor unions relative to the 2010 budget in an effort to work together to get through these difficult financial times,” Strome told Talk of the Sound.
Talk of the Sound has also learned that when the City Council meets tomorrow, Howard Ratner, the City’s finance chief, will announce that revenue is down another half a million dollars from recent projections as the full effects of the economic downturn start to be felt at City Hall. Revenues projections from earlier budget proposals now significantly overstate the actual revenue and the City is hemorrhaging cash. Sales tax revenue has been particularly devastated with a general decline in business and the closing of big box stores Linens & Things and Home Depot EXPO. CostCo, one of the biggest sources of sales tax revenue in New Rochelle, has remained open but seen sales deteriorate since the opening of B.J.’s in Pelham.
Strome told Talk of the Sound that the City has not met with department heads to discuss any specific position reductions other than the continued hiring freeze but sources tell Talk of the Sound specific numbers have been discussed with the unions.
The unions have reportedly given Strome a cool reception to a proposed two year deferment on current contracts with raises back-end loaded into year three.
Hardest hit may be the New Rochelle Police Department. Despite having recently reached a tentative agreement on a 3.5% salary increase for superior officers, Strome has told union officials that unless they forego their own increases the City may cut up to 18 rank-and-file positions by the end of the year. The Superior Officers Association has been without a contract since 2008.
Sources tell Talk of the Sound there are currently six open positions at NRPD due to normal attrition so the plan floated by Strome would be to not fill those positions and lay off another 12 officers.
The DPW Workers union have been told to expect the loss of 6 positions. The union is likely to push for cuts in the number of Community Service Officers. CSO’s are hybrid positions that straddle the line between DPW and Police. CSO’s write quality of life tickets, code violations, serve as backups for school guards, and write parking tickets. Some have questioned whether terminating revenue producers like CSOs make sense.
There has been no discussion about job cuts for firefighters because the union, still upset over a recent arbitration ruling which took away health insurance benefits for retired firefighters, has made it clear they will not discuss givebacks until health insurance benefits for retirees is addressed.
There appears little doubt that something had got to give because City revenues have taken a beating due to the decline in property values, tax certioraris and declines in sales tax revenue but Strome insists it is still early yet.
“No specific numbers have been determined if layoffs were required”. said Strome. “The 2010 budget process is just beginning.”
It remains to be seen who will blink first but Strome’s tough negotiating stance with the unions stands in stark contrast to the anemic effort by Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak who meekly submitted to an increase the number of classroom teachers and an across the board 4.2% pay increase over the next two years without securing a single giveback on pay, staffing or benefits by the schools union.