Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration is preparing to layoff and possibly impose furloughs on city employees as the mayor and the council battle over a preliminary tax levy that has forced cuts in recreation programs and delayed August tax bills, according to municipal officials.
Directors of the city’s various departments have been told to identify employees that can be laid off, according to officials. It’s uncertain how many employees will be laid off or furloughed. It’s also not clear how much money the city expects to generate through a possible furlough and layoff plan.
Torres did not respond to a call for comment on Wednesday morning. Business administrator Nellie Pou could not immediately be reached for comments. The mayor and his cabinet usually meet on Wednesday mornings to discuss city business.
Council president William McKoy said he has not heard of any plans to layoff or furlough employees.
“We’re in a very serious financial situation. We’re going to have to look at everything, nothing is off the table,” said McKoy.
Council members will take a third vote on the mayor’s preliminary tax levy tonight. Torres has been attempting to propitiate council members to support his tax levy, which was voted down twice for being too onerous on property owners, behind the scene, said officials.
The mayor may have the support of four council members when the measure comes up for a vote tonight.
Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, said he prefers to see an economic development plan from the administration. “At this juncture it’s almost inevitable we’ll have to cut costs, but please give us a projection as to how the administration plans to raise revenue,” he said.
The city will not produce a great deal of savings from laying off employees because payroll is dominated by police and fire employees. The business administrator and council members have said the city cannot get rid of fire and police employees hired through federal grant money, for it risks being banned from future grant opportunities and may even have to return millions already expended.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, has said laying off employees will not produce short-term savings for the city. He has said the city will have to pay a large portion of any employee’s salary towards unemployment insurance.
“What’s his vision for introducing new revenue streams? All we keep hearing about is that he’s going to reduce or eliminate line items. How about introducing new revenue streams?” remarked Sayegh.