Police Officers and Firefighters Protest Pending Layoffs
ELIZABETH, N.J. (AP) _ City workers protested for a third day Thursday in an attempt to prevent layoffs of more than one-third of Elizabeth’s public safety employees, including all ambulance workers.
About 75 police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers gathered Thursday outside the Springfield campaign office of Assembly Speaker Chuck Hardwick, a candidate for governor.
Elizabeth Mayor Thomas Dunn, who took to carrying a pistol after a rowdy post-midnight rally by about 200 city employees outside his house, has blamed Hardwick for the city’s budget shortfall.
Dunn said the speaker will not put up for a vote a distressed-cities bill that could ease the budget problems for this working-class city of 106,000 people.
Most of the 221 layoffs are scheduled for Friday, including 82 police officers, 68 firefighters and all 38 of the city’s ambulance workers.
On May 29, 19 more police and 14 additional firefighters are set to be cut, leaving 232 people in the police department and 192 in the fire department.
″I don’t believe this city can survive with the cuts,″ said Paul Partazana, president of the Elizabeth Police Benevolent Association. ″This city can’t be declared safe with that amount of police officers left behind to protect it.″
Partazana said the safety workers would continue protesting, but a Superior Court judge has issued orders limiting the gatherings.
The protesters stayed outside Dunn’s house until about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, singing songs filled with expletives and chanting ″Save our jobs.″ Dunn said a dead fish was thrown on his porch.
Later that morning, the protest moved to the house of John F. Papetti, city business administrator, and the injunction prohibiting protests outside elected officials’ houses was requested and granted.
Also on Wednesday, about 150 of the workers scheduled for layoffs filled the City Hall lobby to sign up for unemployment benefits.
Papetti said garbage disposal costs have tripled from about $4 million to about $12 million in one year because of new state environmental regulations, and that distressed-city money dropped from about $10 million to about $7 million during the same period.
″The state says to go pay for these things, survive, but nobody says how,″ Papetti said.
The state’s distressed-cities fund was cut to $70 million this year from $120 million last year. Gov. Tom Kean recently proposed a compromise that would supply an additional $65 million, but Speaker Hardwick has criticized the measure as a disguised tax increase.
Another 150 people are scheduled for layoffs Friday from other city departments.