$12 million deficit triggers layoffs and political battle


CRANSTON — Mayor Ken Hopkins is cutting 21 city jobs as part of what his administration describes as “cost-cutting initiatives to reduce the size of Cranston’s government.”

Nine employees have received layoff notices, city hall said in a statement released Friday afternoon, just before the start of the long weekend.

Seven other employees will retire and five will resign voluntarily, according to the statement.

“I take no pleasure in making this announcement today, but have determined that it is in the long-term interests of the financial health of the town and the ratepayers of Cranston that we begin the formal process of reducing the size of our government,” Hopkins, a Republican, was quoted as saying.

The move drew immediate criticism from Democrats.

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“I think the layoffs are a short-term solution to a larger structural problem,” Councilman John Donegan, who chairs the council’s Democratic caucus, told the Providence Journal on Saturday. “We’re in a tough spot, but I don’t think trying to balance the budget on the backs of hardworking Cranston employees is the right way to do it.”

Cranston officials estimate the city has a budget shortfall of $12 million. Cutting 21 positions will save $1.5 million in salaries and benefits, according to Friday’s announcement.

Hopkins, in an email to the Journal, questioned whether critics had any alternatives and called the pushback “a political twitter as my staff and I work tirelessly to resolve the deficit.”

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The city’s financial woes could become an issue in the race to replace Rep. Jim Langevin in Congress: Republican candidate Allan Fung served as mayor of Cranston for more than a decade before Hopkins took office in 2021.

“Job cuts at a time when people are struggling to afford gas and groceries… If only former Mayor Fung had cared about the taxpayers of Cranston and the long-term financial health of the city”, Democratic candidate Joy Fox, from Cranston, wrote on Twitter Saturday. “We can’t afford to have that kind of leadership in Congress.”

Fung’s campaign, in a statement, said he “left the town of Cranston in good financial shape” and that other factors, including inflation, caused the deficit.

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Maintenance and office jobs will be cut, not the police or the fire department

In Friday’s announcement, the Hopkins administration promised there would be “no staff cuts in the police and fire emergency departments,” which currently make up a significant portion of the city’s budget. town.

The statement also said that the position of “confidential assistant” in the mayor’s office would be among the jobs cut.

“I offered one of my assistants to be the next community development director to fill a vacancy,” Hopkins said. “Once this person is confirmed, I will operate the Mayor’s office with one less person whose workload will change to my remaining staff.

It was not immediately clear which other employees would be affected: City employees represented by Teamsters Local 251 are guaranteed “bumping rights,” Anthony Moretti, Hopkins’ chief of staff, told the Journal.

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Workers who receive a layoff notice can choose to “remove” employees who hold a similar position but have less seniority, which means that the youngest employee would be laid off and the employee oldest would take over.

Layoff notices went out on Friday, so the process “won’t be shaking for a while,” Moretti said.

Departments where positions are being cut include the building maintenance department, highway maintenance and parks and recreation, Moretti said. He said the cuts were split 50-50 between the Teamsters, which represent office workers, and the International Union of Workers, which represents some workers in the public works, parks and recreation departments.

Hopkins says he tried to work with unions to avoid layoffs

Hopkins, in his Friday statement, said his administration had spent the past month talking to union leaders.

“We first asked each group to consider reopening their contracts and working with us to reduce some costly benefits, including planned salary increases,” he said. “As is their right, no union, after consulting its members, was prepared to do so.”

“I respect the fact that it is their right to hold this position, but I have an obligation to find savings in our budget and unfortunately salaries and related benefits consume approximately 70% of the municipal budget of Cranston. »

Donegan said Saturday he believed unions would be willing to review their contracts if the administration “negotiated in good faith.”

Workers “care deeply about our city,” he said. “They want Cranston to be as successful as all of us.”

In an email to the Journal, Hopkins replied, “We worked all week with each of the unions trying to negotiate. It was a whole week trying to avoid layoffs. I was the last person to want let that happen.”

Saturday evening, the unions had not commented on the dismissals.

Cuts in the context of rising property taxes

Cranston homeowners received a letter from Hopkins last week saying he was “reluctantly” raising property taxes by 2.85%, after three straight years with no increases.

“I led a top-down financial review of all aspects of city government,” the letter said. “While we will continue my commitment to providing essential services, I am committed to reducing the size of our government.”

Along with eliminating more than 20 city government positions, Hopkins ordered spending cuts of $1.1 million, according to Friday’s announcement.

His administration plans to continue exploring options, including “targeted cuts to programs deemed non-essential,” “careful consideration of employee overtime,” and “the exploration of public-private partnerships for certain services or programs,” according to the press release.

Donegan said Cranston town government was already a ‘very, very lean operation’ and that cutting jobs ‘would have a detrimental impact on the services people receive here in Cranston, which I don’t think that people will be happy, especially given the tax increases.”

“People can say the layoffs won’t impact city services – that’s just not true,” he said. “It’s impossible.”

Spending will be tight, Moretti said, but “we believe we have reduced government as much as possible without affecting municipal services.” He acknowledged the city “is by no means overstaffed,” but said “the size of the city government” was a major reason for the shortfall.

Who is responsible for the city’s deficit?

Cranston’s Democratic Party, on Twitterdescribed the cuts as “a proposed band-aid” to problems that are “the mayor’s creation”.

Moretti said Hopkins faces factors beyond his control, such as the city losing $2.7 million in public funding for distressed communities over the next two years, and faces a increase in landfill tipping fees.

“If people want to become politicized and enjoy their own political career, they have that option,” he said. “The mayor is mobilizing.

Moretti added that the mayor had asked the council to come up with alternatives to the layoffs, “and they found nothing. I don’t understand how people can criticize the mayor when they have no suggestions.”

Hopkins, who is widely considered Fung’s hand-picked successor, avoided blaming the $12 million shortfall on his predecessor.

Moretti acknowledged that there had been “some budgetary catch-ups” when Hopkins took office, but also pointed to other factors, such as an increase in debt payments for the construction of the new Garden City Elementary School. .

“We don’t blame anyone,” he said.

Fung’s campaign, in a statement, said that when he left office, “the city’s credit rating was high, its rainy day fund was large, and the city was paying 100% of its annual dues. required from his pension fund”.

“Since Mayor Hopkins took office, he has budgeted millions more for building schools and programming school departments,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, the state has also cut aid to struggling communities at the same time. In addition, inflation has caused some city expenses to increase rapidly. Under these new circumstances, Mayor Hopkins is now taking measures to maintain Cranston’s fiscal stability.”

Moretti said school funding makes up just over half of the city’s budget, but the school board, not the mayor, controls individual positions.

Employees offered $10,000 to quit or retire

Moretti told the Journal that employees who agreed to voluntarily resign received a $10,000 stipend. Those eligible for retirement received the same allowance and an additional year of health care benefits with a 30% co-payment.

The administration also worked with union leaders to try to find other jobs for employees, including comparable positions in other cities, he said. He could not immediately cite the total number of people who had found other employment, but said a few had found employment with the Cranston School and Fire Department.

The city turned to layoffs as “an absolute last resort,” Moretti said, and warned workers earlier in the week that they would receive official layoff notice on Friday.

“We were, I would say, as kind and compassionate as we could be,” he said.


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