After threatening to shutdown municipal government over a budget impasse with the city council, mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration sent out letters to employee unions on Thursday afternoon telling non-essential employees to not report to work starting Tuesday, March 1st, 2016.
“As a result of this rejection [of the budget changes], the administration is left without funds to operate the city past the expiration of the temporary budget on February 29th,” reads the memo. “Due to this lack of funds, we will suspend all non-essential services after February 29th.”
The memo further reads non-essential employees “are instructed not to show up for work commencing March 1st until further notice.”
Uniform police, uniform fire, tax collector, city clerk, office of emergency management, health officer, and municipal court employees will still have to report to work on Tuesday, according to the memo.
Public works’ street and road and the recycling divisions also must report to work, according to the memo.
1,000 employees are presumably impacted by the suspension of non-essential services, according to city officials. Torres could not provide an exact number of employees impacted by the suspension. He referred questions to the city’s personnel director.
“As the fiduciary representative of this City I cannot spend money that I am not authorized to spend, and can only continue City operations through next Monday,” Torres said in a statement released by his office.
“It’s causing a mass panic,” said Michael Jackson, president of the public works union that represents blue collar employees. “It started with no pay, now no work.”
“I think it’s horrible. I think they are playing games with the people of Paterson and the employees,” said Richard Gollin, executive director of the AFSCME Council 52, who represents 500 library and health department clerical workers, supervisors, and public works employees. He blamed both sides in the impasse. “They are playing a political game at the city’s expense,” he said.
Gollin said many of his members live pay check to pay check and are angry over the shutdown.
“We’re really in a bind,” said council president William McKoy. He said the city cannot cut its budget without losing state aid. He said even if the budget were reduced city taxpayers would not see savings because transitional aid would be further reduced resulting in a much higher tax hike.
Council members voted down the budget amendments because it contained a 6.1-percent tax increase.
“The mayor wants to paint the city council as the bad guy,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, who serves as the chairman of the finance committee. He said instead of sitting down with council members to strike a compromise the mayor is engaged in “blackmailing” tactics.
Torres has received criticism for not being present at the post-midnight vote in which the council rejected the changes his administration proposed to the approved, but not yet adopted budget.
Torres’ shutdown will reduce the budget automatically as workers will not be paid for that one day, said Morris. The council is expected to consider the budget amendments on Tuesday night, said the council president.
Morris said that reduction in payroll may result in reduction in transitional aid.
“I don’t want to go into a fight with him,” said Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman, about the shutdown. “I’m with the homeowners. They can’t afford to pay. When you cannot pay for something there is no negotiation. Many of them are on the verge of bankruptcy”.
McKoy said given the circumstances the six-percent tax increase though painful is the best option taxpayers have. “This is the best arrangement we can strike given the facts of the day,” he said.
The council president said the tax increase could have been over seven-percent had the administration not plugged into the budget more than $2 million in unspent bond money.
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This report was last updated on February 26th, 2016 at 10 a.m.