SOUTH PORTLAND — City Manager Jim Gailey announced the layoffs of five city employees on Tuesday in an effort to reduce costs in next year’s budget.
The move comes two weeks after a window closed for employees to take a cash payout in exchange for a voluntarily resignation or retirement.
In a press release Tuesday, the city only identified four of the five employees whose jobs were eliminated: Public Works Operations Manager David Gaudet, Recreation Department Operations Manager Deborah Smith, personnel assistant Pamela St. John and Rita Nappi, a part-time young adult librarian at the main library.
The fifth employee, a part-time library secretary, was laid off on Wednesday.
Human Resource Director John McGough said the employees were given two week’s pay in lieu of a two-week notice. The employees are also entitled to receive a week’s pay for every two years they have worked for the city, plus accrued vacation and personal days and a portion of unused sick time.
McGough said payouts to laid-off employees will total nearly $140,000. Gailey estimated the layoffs will reduce next year’s costs by more than $283,000 in salaries and benefits.
Each employee, some of whom have been with the city for more than 30 years, was only given five minutes to pack their belongings and say goodbye before being escorted out of their respective offices.
Gailey, who began his career as a teenager working under some of the people he laid off, said the procedure wasn’t the best, but that it was the one suggested by the city labor attorney.
“It was a horrible way to do it,” Gailey said. “It was heartless for the number of years those employees gave to the city.”
Gaudet, Smith and St. John have each worked for the city for more than 25 years.
City Councilor Jim Soule said he has requested a council executive session Monday night to discuss Gailey’s job performance. Soule said he was disheartened to learn Mayor Tom Blake was informed about the layoffs last Friday, Feb. 20, and the information was not shared with other councilors.
“I feel blindsided by this,” Soule said.
Soule said he and other veteran councilors may have been able to provide advice on how move forward with the layoffs, having been through the process before. He said the city should have offered “bumping rights” to the employees, allowing them to take other jobs, provided they were qualified.
Gailey said he wanted to inform the council after speaking with Blake last week, but was advised by the city attorney not to tell councilors about the layoffs ahead of time to minimize the chances of a leak. He also defended his choices on Wednesday, saying that reducing mid-level management is the only way to realize maximum savings without dramatically impacting services.
Councilor Linda Boudreau said it was clear from the council’s budget guidance that personnel would likely be cut. The council’s demand for no more than a 3.5 percent spending increase still left the projected 2010 budget $322,000 in the red.
Boudreau said she is confident Gailey made the layoffs in the departments that could absorb the losses with minimal impact on services. She also complimented Gailey for his efforts to offer voluntary incentives to minimize layoffs.
Six employees opted to take a $7,000 payout to either resign or retire by Feb. 27. The measure is estimated to have saved the city more than $138,000, if it hires entry-level police and firefighters to replace those who retired. The city also expects to save $260,000 after renegotiating a fuel contract when prices were low in January.
Library Director Kevin Davis declined on Wednesday to speak about what programs would be affected by Nappi’s departure. “There are a lot that’s unknowns, but we’re going to do the best we can,” to continue young adult programs, he said.
Meanwhile, questions have been raised about several stipend increases handed out shortly before a hiring freeze was instituted in January.
In December 2008, McGough and Public Works Director Dana Anderson each received $4,000 stipend increases, roughly 4 percent of their salaries. However, Gailey said those increases were the result of a spring 2008 management reorganization that reduced the number of department heads from 13 to eight.
Tim Gato’s position was also reclassified from pool and transfer station operations to deputy director of parks, public works, recreation and libraries. He received a $3.21-per-hour raise, from $25.88 to $29.09 an hour.
The employees were due stipend increases last spring based on their increased responsibilities, Gailey said.
Blake said he feels sorry for those who were laid off and that the city should feel fortunate that more layoffs weren’t necessary. Many employers, he said, are laying off 5 to 10 percent of their entire labor force.
“As mayor, I feel really badly,” Blake said. “But we need to pick up the pieces and work together to get through this.”
Meanwhile, Gailey is expected to hand over his budget to the City Council on March 16 and present it publicly on April 1. The council will then hold several budget hearings.