Mayor pushes worker retirements



The city hasn't eliminated jobs since 1981.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- The proposed city budget is short about $74,000, which the mayor hopes can be made up in employee retirements.
"This budget is lean and mean. It's just an operating budget with no frills," said Mayor Timothy Fulkerson.
City council got the $11.4 million spending plan at its council meeting. A budget hearing is planned for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 1.
Fulkerson attributed the shortfall, in part, to overtime costs because of last winter's snow and the flooding in the summer. The steady reduction of state and federal grants are also a problem, he added.
Eliminating jobs
He has proposed eliminating four positions to help bring the budget closer to being balanced. The plan will work, however, only if the new city council and mayor do not replace any of the eliminated positions or people opting for an early retirement plan the city has proposed.
Fulkerson said he also hopes that at least four city firefighters retire in the next few months to help save more money. He said they are now working on an incentive plan that would give retired firefighters what would be their full salary at the end of the current five-year contract.
The retirements could bring $250,000 to $300,000 in savings to the general fund, Fulkerson added.
The mayor said if firefighters who have reached full retirement age do not retire, there will be layoffs in the department in 2004.
The department now has 28 firefighters, he said. The union contract calls for the city to keep 24 full-time firefighters at all times.
Fulkerson said there will be still be a savings if more than four retire and have to be replaced because the new hires would start out at lower salaries. The top-earning firefighters make $43,621 a year; new hires are paid $23,500 a year.
The proposed 2004 budget also calls for the elimination of four positions appointed by the mayor.
What they are
Eliminating the jobs -- deputy treasurer, code enforcement director, parks and recreation director and building inspector -- will eventually save the city about $100,000 in salaries.
Those savings probably won't be seen until 2005 after some stop collecting unemployment benefits, the mayor added.
Fulkerson said one of the four expected to lose their jobs, Jim Popovich, the city building inspector, is planning to take the city's early retirement offer.
Jack Mahaven, code enforcement director, and Jason DiMuccio, parks and recreation director, have been told their positions are being eliminated. Duties of both will be absorbed by other workers.
Fulkerson said Eleanor Caroluk, deputy treasurer who has been a city employee for 60 years, will likely move into another job.
John DiMuccio, city administrator, said this is the first time jobs have been eliminated since 1981.
The mayor said he decided not to raise real estate taxes because taxes are already too high.
The only real solution to the city's problems is to stop unfunded state and federal mandates and have some tax-exempt properties in the city make payments despite their tax-exempt status, he said.
"The Lawrence County Housing Authority pays practically nothing to the city, but takes up about 50 percent of our police department's time," Fulkerson said.
The city has eliminated $5,000 to $10,000 donations it has made in the past for things like entertainment downtown and the city Shade Tree Commission.
DiMuccio said they could not justify the nonessential expenses when they are considering layoffs.
cioffi@vindy.com

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