Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop has been out in front of the COVID-19 outbreak as much as any mayor in the state, in terms of social distancing restrictions and test sites.
Remember, Jersey City was asking for private gatherings to take contact information of attendees when most people didn’t understand the risks of the gatherings in the first place.
On Monday, Fulop took the lead in a tougher area: staff reductions in municipal government.
Facing an expected shortfall that city officials estimate will be at least $70 million ($50 million in lost revenue plus $20 million in COVID-related expenses), Fulop announced the city is offering voluntary separation packagers for workers who have 15 years of service or more.
Applicants would receive $20,000 or 25% of their salary, whichever is greater. They must respond by April 20; the date of separation will be May 1. City officials said more than 400 employees (who combine to make $22.7 million) are eligible.
Jersey City is believed to be the first major municipality in the state to announce intended workforce reductions. It’s logical to assume others soon will follow.
The hope, Fulop said, is to avoid layoffs.
“We are working every day to get Jersey City healthy and to get past COVID-19, but we are also taking steps to plan long term to avoid hurting homeowners and renters with increased taxes,” Fulop said in a release. “The more proactive and aggressive we can be now, the better off we will be in the long term.
“Government is not immune to the hardships created by this crisis, and all options will have to be on the table to close the gap, with layoffs absolutely being a last resort.”
To provide further cost savings, the city will be freezing all city employee salary adjustments, while also prohibiting any new hires until further notice.
Last week, Fulop unveiled a local relief program that will freeze rent increases within rent-controlled buildings, in addition to a program of local grants to support small businesses that are facing financial hardships due to the current COVID-19 crisis.
“As local governments nationwide face devastating financial fallout, here in Jersey City, we’re working to mitigate the community impacts as much as is possible, but the help needed at the local level from state and federal government is significant,” Fulop said.
The new measures will go before the city council at Wednesday night’s meeting, which will be conducted virtually. It can be viewed live at www.jcnj.org/vcm.