BY BOB HOLT
New Jersey's largest city is cutting workers' hours and even eliminating the purchase of toilet paper to close a $70 million budget deficit. Newark Mayor Cory Booker has proposed a $600 million budget, which includes the possibility of laying off as many as 350 police and firefighters.
Booker announced on Wednesday 1,450 non-uniformed city workers will begin a four-day work week on Sept. 27 that would represent a 20 percent pay cut. The mayor, in a City Hall briefing today, said he also would seek to eliminate 600 other jobs and scale back trash pickup and park maintenance.
According to businessweek.com, Booker called on the City Council to pass his proposal to convert Newark's water system into a municipal utility authority, a plan he said would raise $70 million this year to help close the gap. Without it, residents will face tax increases of almost 30 percent, he said.
The nine-member council has twice voted to defer action on whether to create the water authority. Booker said he would reduce the number of police and firefighter job cuts and hold off on other actions if the council advances his plan at a July 27 meeting.
"Newark has 2,500 homeowners that are behind on mortgage payments, Booker said. A sharp rise in property taxes may cause many to fall further behind, he said. The council hasn't passed the mayor's $600 million budget, which calls for a 7 percent increase in taxes.
Without the MUA, the budget is left with a $70 million hole the mayor said he must attempt to fill. Booker told wcbstv.com that he doesn't want to resort to huge tax increases to offset the deficit. The mayor fears higher taxes would cripple the city's economy.
"In the meantime, I'm going to shut down as much of city government as I can," Booker said. "We're going to stop buying everything from toilet paper to printer paper. Call me Mr. Scrooge, if you want, but they'll be no Christmas decorations around the city."
According to NJ.com, Newark's non-uniformed city employees were already on notice that they would be taking biweekly furloughs starting July 30. Today's action will increase those 11 unpaid days to 19, saving the city an extra $1.9 million, officials said.
NorthJersey.com reports that Booker will close the city's pools on Aug. 2.