New Bedford, MA may layoff
36 water workers

By JACK SPILLANE, Standard-Times staff writer
NEW BEDFORD -- The Kalisz administration has developed a plan to lay off as many as 36 workers in the Water and Wastewater departments as part of a merger and wholesale restructuring.

The layoffs would net the city more than $1 million in savings but they are part of a plan that would also provide significant raises to four of the top managers in the departments.

Those managers, Commissioner Ronald H. Labelle, Superintendent of Wastewater Vincent Furtado, Superintendent of Operations James Ricci and Superintendent of Construction John Perry, would each earn salary increases in the vicinity of $10,000 if the plan goes through.

The Standard-Times obtained a Water/Wastewater Department document titled "Proposed Changes in Personnel -- Fiscal Year 2003" that lists the changes.

Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz Jr. yesterday confirmed that the document lists actions the city is considering but he described it as only one of several scenarios the city is contemplating.

He declined to talk about the exact nature of the changes until he delivers his annual budget address to the City Council tomorrow night.

"That (document) is something that was stolen from a department manager's desk, or off a computer, and was then distributed clandestinely," he said.
He continues to revise his budget plans as the latest figures on the city's fiscal situation come in, and as the amount of state aid projected to be available next year changes, he said.

Tomorrow night, he'll outline the final plan based on the latest information available. "There are still things happening in Boston. We're going right down to the wire," he said.

House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran earlier in the spring threatened massive reductions in state spending before the House finally settled on a program of tax freezes and increases that reduced the cutbacks.

The city budget receives millions of dollars of state aid each year.
In February, Mr. Kalisz used his annual State of the City address to announce he was asking all city departments to take immediate 12 percent reductions in order to address a $3.5 million shortfall in this year's budget.

The mayor said the cuts, which he acknowledged at that time might include layoffs, would continue into the next fiscal year in order to address last year's jump in residential property taxes.

The city's residential tax rate increased due to a combination of steep jumps in health care costs for city workers and a rapid rise in residential real estate values even as commercial values stagnated.

When he delivered the State of the City address, the mayor said departments that are funded from their own revenues as opposed to property taxes would not be included in the budget cuts.

Self-funded departments include the Water and Wastewater departments, which bill for their services.

Over the course of the spring, word leaked out that the administration had increased its budget-cutting requests to 17 percent for all departments.

Then, during the last week in April, the mayor announced a wholesale reorganization of city government that included the merger of the Water and Wastewater departments, as well as restructuring of the Police Department and a variety of city inspection services.

As new information about the city and state's fiscal situation became apparent, he moved to take the additional measures, he said.
"Times change. The only thing I'm standing by is that there will be no layoffs of police, firefighters or EMTs (emergency medical technicians)," he said.

To prevent layoffs in the Police and Fire departments, the mayor has said he moved to close public access to two branch police stations and the Kempton Street fire station, which housed the city's hazardous waste materials crews.

Some city councilors expressed confidence in the mayor's plan yesterday, but others were skeptical.

Ward 3 Councilor Joe DeMedeiros said the mayor had explained the need for the consolidation of Water and Wastewater when he invited councilors to discuss the budget earlier this spring.

The managers who take on additional responsibilities under the consolidation will make more money, he said.

"The layoffs are certainly troubling but we are basically at a point where we have to lay people off," he said.

Councilor-at-large Brian K. Gomes wondered how deeply the city's budget problems go.

He said he understands the need to reduce spending, but said there are other places cuts could be made.

"You have to care about these people. They have mortgages and kids in school," he said.

"I still have to question how this city could be running so great on Nov. 1 and how we now have such serious problems," he said.

Mr. Gomes ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Kalisz in last fall's mayoral election.