New Jersey's Newark May Move to Four-Day Work Week, Mayor Cory Booker Says
Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, may fire as many as 350 police and firefighters, institute a four-day work week and reduce all non-essential spending to cope with a $150 million budget gap, Mayor Cory Booker said.
The reduced work schedule, which Booker said may begin Sept. 27, would cut the pay of affected city employees by 20 percent. The mayor, in a City Hall briefing today, told reporters he also would seek to eliminate 600 other jobs and scale back trash pickup and park maintenance.
Booker, a Democrat who won a second term in May, 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.
“We’re going to stop buying everything from toilet paper to printer paper,” said Booker, 41. “I as mayor cannot let the long-term economic viability of our city be harmed by that tax increase.”
Booker said the actions will save as much as $15 million. He said he’ll close all five of the city’s public pools and its Camp Watershed summer day camp in West Milford early next month. The shortened work week will affect 1,451 of the city’s 3,952 non-uniformed employees, said spokeswoman Esmeralda Cameron.
The nine-member council has twice voted to defer action on whether to create the water authority. The proposal is scheduled for several public hearings citywide later this month. 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.
“This is a tactic to scare people and he isn’t going to scare anyone,” said Councilman Luis Quintana, who wants the authority plan put to voters in a public referendum. “He’s talking out of proportion. He’s known this has been coming for four years.”
Newark, a city of 280,000 where a quarter of the residents live in poverty, 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, proposed last month, which calls for a 7 percent increase in taxes.
Moody’s Investors Service on June 2 lowered its credit outlook on the city’s $500 million in outstanding debt to negative, citing diminishing reserves and a drop in state aid.
Under Booker’s water-authority proposal, the new agency would sell as much as $600 million in municipal bonds. Of that amount, $100 million would be paid to the city over two years and the remainder would fund improvements, the mayor said.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to avoid” the tax increase, said Councilman Augusto Amador, who supports the water-authority proposal. “It would be the beginning of chaos in this city.”
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