East Greenwich lays off 2 officers, nears budget plan

Posted: March 08, 2013

The East Greenwich Township Committee voted to lay off two police officers and appeared close to solving its budget shortfall Wednesday even as a debate erupted about whether it could save one of the officer's jobs by dipping into another department's funds.

Two members of the five-person committee reached an agreement over the weekend with the police union, extracting concessions by cutting yearly incentives, changing some health-care plans, and agreeing to lay off the officers. A third officer resigned over the weekend, leaving the department with 18.

The police administration agreed to give up its yearly incentives and some health care. The township also reduced the Water and Sewer Department surplus by about $40,000 and tacked that on to the Police Department cuts, bringing the departmentwide reduction to $427,000.

But after one committee member proposed applying an additional $60,000 in water and sewer surplus to the police reduction, and the committee still voted for the layoffs, police administrators and union officials excoriated the committee for not considering the alternative.

"I think it's a disgrace you didn't look into that," Lt. Charles Barone said. "How could you still act on that? It's unconscionable."

Mayor Fred Grant responded: "I won't support it. We just raised water rates."

Grant said he plans to introduce a balanced budget next week, a prospect that once seemed far-fetched considering the committee's fraught negotiations with the police union. The union had resisted layoffs for months, saying it had not yet been advised by an independent financial auditor.

But it became increasingly clear that layoffs were a necessary part of the equation: The committee had tabled resolutions to lay off five full-time officers at its last two meetings.

Grant has sought 20 percent across-the-board budget cuts from each municipal department since December to close the township's $600,000 shortfall, which he has attributed to reduced state aid and lost revenue from construction code fees and slowed growth. The committee is still a little short, and Grant said he would introduce a resolution next week to impose eight furlough days on each municipal employee, among other cost-saving measures.

Grant, a Democrat, blamed the two Republican committeemen and another Democrat for stalling the layoffs in January. When the committee reorganized that month, Grant removed a part-time officer's name from the annual reappointment list, causing some members to vote unknowingly to lay him off.

That officer had arrested Grant in July on drunken-driving and speeding charges, leading to accusations from police and some residents of retaliation. The charges are pending.

The Township Committee later reversed the layoff. The officer resigned last month.

Contact Andrew Seidman at 856-779-3846, aseidman@phillynews.com or @AndrewSeidman on Twitter.

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