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Lawrence could cut 190 city workers

By David Abel
Globe Staff / June 3, 2010

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The city of Lawrence, struggling to emerge from a financial crisis, plans to lay off about 190 employees, including 35 police officers, 32 firefighters, and 32 teachers, city officials said yesterday.

The proposed layoffs, effective July 1, are part of a plan, overseen by state officials, to balance the city’s $243 million budget.

City officials said they are also seeking $4 million in concessions from city unions, which could avert some of the layoffs by agreeing to forgo raises, reduce overtime, and give up bonuses.

“Lawrence has had a fiscal nightmare for the last few years, and we’re trying to rectify that,’’ said Lenny Degnan, chief of staff for Mayor William Lantigua. “It’s a sad day that we’re going to lay off so many people. But this is something that should have been done years ago, and it boils down to that we have to make tough decisions.’’

Lawrence firefighters decried the proposed cuts and said they would put the city in danger.

Pat Driscoll, president of the Lawrence Firefighters Local 146, said the reduction of nearly one-third of the city’s 102 firefighters was proposed after the city closed two out of its six fire stations last year.

“The Lawrence Fire Department has already been running at dangerously low levels now,’’ he said. “This will devastate the Fire Department.’’

He declined to comment on whether firefighters would make concessions and blamed the mayor for not meeting with the union.

He added that the city is risking residents’ lives if it relies on neighboring cities to help fight fires. “When you’re talking about safety, minutes count,’’ Driscoll said. “Out-of-town fire companies can minimize damage; they can’t save lives when a rapid response is vital.’’

Officials in the Lawrence police union did not return calls for comment.

Robert Nunes, whom state officials appointed in April to be the city’s financial overseer, called the layoffs necessary and part of an unfolding plan that will involve reorganization and consolidation of city agencies, the sale of city real estate, and increased efforts to collect money owed to the city. The city now employs 574 people, plus 986 teachers.

In March, the Legislature approved a rescue plan that allows Lawrence to borrow up to $35 million under state supervision.

The proposed cuts include 15 positions in the Department of Public Works, seven jobs in the library, three in the tax collector’s office, and one in the mayor’s office.

“With these cuts, the budget is balanced to the penny,’’ Nunes said. “There are no gimmicks. It’s the first step in getting the city’s finances back in order.’’

Frank McLaughlin, president of the Lawrence Teachers Union, said he understood that the city had financial problems, but he said it would be counterproductive to lay off a lot of the city’s 986 teachers.

“The kids of this city need good teachers, and we’re going to do everything we can to save as many jobs as possible,’’ he said. “I imagine there are other areas that can be cut before you talk about laying off people. For every two people you lay off, you have to lay off a third to pay for all the unemployment benefits. We need to look at our options.’’

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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