By EMMA BARTLETT
After month-long discussions with Cranston’s employee unions, Mayor Ken Hopkins announced Friday his administration is implementing a series of workforce reductions as part …
By EMMA BARTLETT
After month-long discussions with Cranston’s employee unions, Mayor Ken Hopkins announced Friday his administration is implementing a series of workforce reductions as part of his initiatives to trim the size of city government. The administration is eliminating 21 positions which include not replacing seven retirees, five voluntary resignations and nine employees formally notified of termination.
The layoffs are part of a series of employee reduction strategies and will save the city $1.5 million, following the city’s $1.1 million in other cost-cutting measures to reduce budgeted spending.
“I take no pleasure in making this announcement today, but I have determined that it is in the long-term interest of the city’s fiscal health and Cranston taxpayers that we begin the formal process to reduce the size of our government,” said Hopkins.
He said he has held discussions with the four labor unions that represent city employees – they include Local 271 of the Laborer’s Union, Local 251 of the Teamsters Union, Local 301 of the International Brotherhood of Police and Local 1363 of the Cranston Firefighters Union. For the last month the administration has worked with union leaders – explaining the city’s financial situation and looking to renegotiate existing contractual terms. After the union leaders spoke with their members, there was no interest in renegotiations which led to layoffs as a last measure.
In the Laborer’s Union layoffs were based on seniority, and those with less seniority were let go. These layoffs came from the highway division, building maintenance and fleet maintenance. Office personnel layoffs were made in the tax assessors, building maintenance, senior services, IT, the mayor's office and economic development. Moretti said the office layoffs were based on position and someone who’s in a position with more seniority has “bumping rights” and reserves the right to bump someone from their position if it’s in a similar classification to what they do.
The administration asked each group to consider reopening their contracts and work with the city to reduce benefits and some scheduled pay raises. He said none of the unions were willing to do so.
According to Hopkins, 70 percent of Cranston’s municipal budget goes toward salaries and related benefits.
“We have several employees who will voluntarily retire while others accept a fair compensation package involving a stipend and limited health care coverage to leave. We hoped to do as much as we could by attrition, and I appreciate those employees who were willing to leave now to help our situation,” Hopkins said.
Those who retired early or resigned could receive compensation packages. For those who would soon qualify for retirement, the administration offered a $10,000 incentive and one additional year of health care coverage with a 30 percent copayment; those who resigned received a flat rate of $10,000.
Moretti said 12 of the 21 employees accepted incentives and had an amicable conclusion. The administration also worked with Director of Personnel Daniel Parrillo assisting those affected by layoffs gain employment elsewhere. Additionally, prior to Friday’s layoff notice, Parrillo contacted all those who would be affected to give them an advance notice to exercise whatever options they had.
There will be no eliminations of personnel in police and fire so as to ensure the safety of Cranston families, neighborhoods and businesses and to continuing to provide public safety responses.
Further actions will be taken in the future and Hopkins said all operations of municipal services will continue to be reviewed for implementation including the following:
Hopkins added that his office will no longer fund the Mayor’s confidential assistant position. Moretti said this position has been in the budget for decades and will save the city roughly $75,000.
“I have proposed one of my assistants to be the next Director of Community Development to fill a necessary vacancy. After this person is confirmed, I will operate the mayor’s office with one less person whose workload will shift to my remaining staff,” Hopkins said.
The administration is proposing Ernie Tommasiello for the Community Development Director position. There will be a special finance meeting on July 14 for the advice and consent of Tommaseillo for the position.
As for rental rates for city facilities, Moretti said the administration would first evaluate how competitive their fees are with other communities. While they are not intimate doing anything, the recreational fields within the senior center and ice rink would be the main facilities looked at. Additionally, Moretti said areas to look at would include all sorts of permits and licensing.
Moretti said the only substantial city property that could be sold would be the former Sanders Elementary School off Elmwood Avenue.
Council members and others reacted to Hopkins’ announcement via Twitter. The Cranston Democratic Party said the cuts were nothing but window dressing.
“Mayor Hopkins has irresponsibly grown the city’s structural deficit to over $12.5 million. Cranston’s finances have been completely ruined by the last two budgets. Catastrophic mismanagement is sadly the headline here,” tweeted the Cranston Democratic Party.
Hopkins responded saying “Shame on the Dems for playing politics and offering nothing to solve the problem.” He defended himself – saying he did not financially mismanage the city in 18 months and that there were a variety of factors in play.
Ward 5 School Committee member David Alden Sears hopped onto the Twitter conversation saying the GOP and Hopkins’ accomplishments within the city included a structural deficit, a tax increase and layoffs.
Councilwoman Nicole Renzulli responded to Sears, referencing the May 4 budget adoption night and questioned where the democrats were that night, mentioning that Vice President and Chair of Finance Robert Ferri voted down every one of her cuts.
“I support the City of Cranston and will continue to work to the best of my ability, alongside the Mayor, for the residents,” Renzulli wrote in a conversation chain to the Cranston Democratic Party. “Maybe you don’t realize if the Mayor fails, we all fail (or maybe that’s what you’re hoping for).”
The city’s current budgetary issues found their way to the CD2 race where democratic candidate Joy Fox addressed the workforce cuts.
“Cutting jobs at a time when people are struggling to pay for gas and groceries…If only former Mayor Fung had cared about Cranston taxpayers and the city’s long-term fiscal health. We can't afford to have this kind of leadership in Congress,” wrote Fox, calling out Fung who is a republican candidate for the CD2 seat.
The conversation also veered to the School Committee where councilman Matt Reilly responded to Sears saying their idea of fiscal responsibility is “more, more, more.”
“You personally have had a more direct and devastating impact on the city’s budget than any council member with the waste and lush contracts you rubber stamped for the unions,” wrote Reilly.
Sears disagreed, writing that one of the budget cuts the GOP proposed was $1 million from the Cranston Public School Department’s budget months before they met with their biggest union.
The tension between the City Council’s democrats and republican Mayor Ken Hopkins has become more apparent since the introduction of the FY 2023 budget in April. In a Monday press release, Hopkins expressed his disappointment and criticism of the five Democratic council members who he said “are carping about the necessary steps he has taken as mayor for the long-term financial well-being of Cranston.”
“I find it incredulous that the Democrats on the City Council are criticizing me for my actions and leadership when they have sat by silently for weeks and offered nothing substantively to help us chart through these upcoming budgetary waters,” said Hopkins in a Monday announcement.
Moretti said Hopkins’ response to the democrats was a result of tweets and Facebook posts made by several council people. He said it was irresponsible and that the council people were taking advantage of a difficult situation.
“It warranted clarification and to remind the taxpayers and residents of the truth of what is happening in the city versus any distortions of the facts,” Moretti said.
Hopkins said during the budget adoption night on May 4, Democratic council members sat there as the council Republicans and the mayor’s finance team made line item adjustments to reduce the budget.
“They [council democrats] offered nothing but sat like Trappist monks rather than fulfilling their legislative duties,” Hopkins said. “I cannot even say they came up with a bad idea. They offered no ideas.”
Donegan and councilwoman Jessica Marino, who are both democrats, did propose budget amendments at the May 4 adoption night. Hopkins said they offered nothing as part of a political scheme to make him propose a small tax increase.
“To sit back and criticize is easy, but to act requires leadership,” Moretti said, regarding the council people’s comments.
Hopkins cited Donegan for being critical of the employee reduction program Hopkins implemented.
“We need to make our local government smaller for the taxpayers. John Donegan would prefer to talk in catchy sound bytes rather than do what’s in the best interest of the city,” Hopkins said. “John Donegan is proposing a housing ordinance that will add hundreds of thousands of dollars of cost to our budget and create an administrative bureaucracy for property owners and landlords.”
Hopkins said in the unlikely event the city council supports Donegan’s “over the top” idea, he will quickly veto the ordinance.
Hopkins said his team is working on a multi-pronged strategy to preserve Cranston’s financial health and are continuing to carefully look at expenditures and revenue sources. He expects to end the year with an operating surplus – any unrestricted surplus will go into the rainy day fund.
“I know this process has been difficult for our employees and their families. I thank them for their understanding as we work our way through various contractual and budgetary decisions,” Hopkins said. “Today is the next step to protecting our financial strength for all taxpayers and the continued delivery of essential city services.”
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