A sweeping measure to consolidate various city departments and functions was unanimously introduced by the City Council on July 31, despite concerns about what the changes will mean for civil servants and unionized workers.
The measure, a major initiative of Mayor Steven Fulop, will save an estimated $343,112 and will streamline city services and operations, according to the administration. Some aspects of the consolidation plans had already been announced or had been anticipated.
As was announced last month, the city will create a new Department of Public Safety under Public Safety Director James Shea, who starts in his position in an acting capacity on Aug. 5. The Police Department and Fire Department will retain their own chiefs but will be moved into the Department of Public Safety, as will the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEM).
‘I want to make sure we’re doing this all fairly and legally.’ – Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal
The city’s Division of Architecture and the Division of Engineering, Traffic, and Transportation will also be combined into a single office within the DPW. The administration said this will eliminate duplication within the current divisions, conserve resources within DPW, streamline services, and make services more efficient for constituents.
Among the changes that had not been anticipated before last week, the Division of Cultural Affairs, the Division of Senior Affairs, and the Division of Veterans Affairs will all be moved into the revamped Mayor’s Action Bureau, which the Fulop administration has expanded and renamed the Resident Response Center. Also, the Office of Pensions and the Office of Payroll will be consolidated under one division. Redundant services and jobs within these two departments will be eliminated.
While no city employees addressed the council regarding the changes last week, one employee who will be affected by the merger of her department said it has left many of her co-workers feeling “anxious” about what the consolidations will mean for them long-term. A number of employees believe the consolidations will result in layoffs at some point.
Indeed, Fulop acknowledged last week that layoffs are a possibility.
“We are exploring all options, as we have started our desk audit,” the mayor told the Reporter. “Our goal is to stabilize a structural deficit that we inherited from the previous administration.” The $515.9 million municipal budget for 2013, which was passed last month, included a municipal tax increase of 7.6 percent.
There is also concern regarding how the mergers may affect the city’s unionized and civil service workers.
Ward B City Councilman Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal joined with the administration last week and voted to introduce the consolidation ordinance, but said he still has “many questions about some of this which I would like answered by the next meeting.”
Later he detailed some of his lingering concerns.
“The DPW workers are civil service. The JCIA workers are unionized,” said Ramchal. “If we merge these two departments I want to know how this is going to work, merging a unionized and civil service [workforce]. And I want to make sure we’re doing this all fairly and legally.”
Last year, calls by Fulop to merge the DPW and JCIA when he was a city councilman led to protests among low-level, low-wage JCIA employees who feared the loss of financial stability if the merger plan became a reality. The JCIA has about 134 full-time employees. The DPW has approximately 146 full-time workers.
But Fulop has long argued that his plan to merge the DPW and JCIA “is not about cutting at the bottom, it’s about cutting at the top.”
Still, when Fulop tried to introduce a merger ordinance last year as a city councilman, Hudson County Freeholder William O’Dea, who represents Jersey City on the freeholder board and who is a Fulop ally, was critical of the plan.
At the time, O’Dea noted that since the DPW is a department that has civil service protections, it would be impossible to simply absorb JCIA workers into the DPW. Under civil service rules, workers with seniority who are slated to be laid off can “bump” employees with less seniority. Any cuts made at the DPW to make way for JCIA workers would directly affect employees working at the bottom of the two agencies, O’Dea insisted.
Ramchal is also an O’Dea ally and will likely consult with him before voting on the merger plan.
Mayor Fulop said the administration’s consolidation plans will be discussed with members of the City Council.
“Not only are these changes essential from a fiscal standpoint, but also from an operational standpoint,” Fulop said last week in a release. “We are cutting costs, streamlining services and creating synergy between previously separate departments.
A public hearing is scheduled on the administration’s merger plan on Wednesday, Aug. 21 at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 280 Grove St.
It will also be at this meeting that the City Council will vote on the appointment of Public Safety Director James Shea. Until the council acts on his appointment, Shea will serve in his new role in an acting capacity beginning Monday, Aug. 5.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.