Layoffs loom for New Castle County workers

    The budget message was harsh for Delaware’s most populated county. New Castle County Executive Chris Coons says county workers from three unions face layoffs as he presented his budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year Tuesday evening.

    New Castle County Executive Chris Coons says county workers from three unions face layoffs as he presented his budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year Tuesday evening.

    “I do not see how it is fair for one half of our workforce to continue giving back, while the other half does not,” New Castle County Executive Chris Coons said.

    Last year the police and paramedics unions negotiated 5% pay cuts and other concessions in a three year deal.  Locals 459, 1607 and 3109 agreed to the cutback for one year in exchange for job security.

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    Coons says he’s gone back to negotiate with those three AFSCME unions that represent 725 employees to ask them to continue the 5% pay cut for this budget year, without success.

    So now many of  the county’s park, sewer and maintenance workers, along with clerical and technical employees and managers and supervisors face losing their jobs.

    “Workers in those three unions will be facing layoffs.  It is their choice,” Coons said.

    “While I respect the collective bargaining process and have been open to negotiating a fair resolution to this, the three unions I mentioned have so far made a choice that will require hard consequences.  So  I will be working with our management team over the coming months to reduce the workforce and further align this government.”

    Coons would not elaborate on just how many positions would be eliminated, but said the county needs to save $2.2 million in personnel costs.

    Dan Tharby, President of AFSCME Local 459, the so-called blue collar union, says he believes there are other cost saving measures that could be negotiated to avoid layoffs.

    “I feel pretty confident there is a happy medium there (and) that we can work out something in order to make both parties happy,” Tharby said.  “This is what we went through last year and we’ll go through it again this year.”

    This budget address for Coons is different than last year in that he’s now running for U.S. Senate against Republican Mike Castle in this year’s election.

    “The core of this budget, the decisions that were made, were made weeks ago before my being a candidate for Senate was really even a thought in my head or even a reality,” Coons said.  “I think what folks are looking for in a leader, whether at a county level or other level, is someone who’s willing to make hard choices. I frankly think being a candidate for senate doesn’t change that.  I think folks still expect me to make hard choices, balance the budget and find ways to deliver vital services regardless of what else I might be running for,” Coons added.

    In other budget details, property taxes will hold steady for New Castle County residents who saw a 25% increase last year.  But sewer rates will go up 4%, adding an average $10 increase to the annual sewer bill. That’s on top of last year’s 10% sewer rate increase.

    After last year’s negative growth budget, Coons says uncontrollable costs such as pensions and health care put pushed this budget $6 million higher than last fiscal year.

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