A Massachusetts city has begun the process of laying off 50 police officers and three K9s amid debates over pay raises for superior officers.
“Today, regrettably, we began the process of laying off at least 50 police officers to ensure that the city does not deficit spend," read a statement from the Office of Methuen Mayor James Jajuga and his chief of staff Paul Fahey. "It is an action we hoped we would not have to take as we believe it severely compromises the safety of our residents and our city. However, at this point, we have no other choice. We are still hoping that the City Council will reinstate the necessary funding to the Police Department when it meets again in early February.”
Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon said he would start serving the 50 layoff notices Thursday night, serving the rest over the weekend.
“I believe it’ll be more than that,” he said. “I’m just waiting for a final number from the city auditor."
Half of the Methuen Police Department could end up being laid off if City Council doesn't agree to approve the department's current contract regarding how much officers should be paid.
“It’s going to impact our citizens and it’s going to impact the officers and their families," Chief Solomon said. "How do you reduce your department by 50-percent and still provide adequate service? You don’t.”
"It is deeply disturbing for our community that a minimum of 50 pink slips will be given to Methuen’s officers starting today," City Councillor at Large Jessica Finocchiaro said in a Facebook post.
Chief Solomon tweeted Thursday night that the cuts were a "debilitating blow to public safety, not only in Methuen but the entire Merrimack Valley."
City councillors like Steve Saba think the current contract and raises for officers are too high.
“We were faced with a ridiculous contract in a community where the average household income of only $62,000," Saba said. "We’re expected to approve and smile and be happy with paying captains upwards of $250,000 each.”
But Chief Solomon says they're not asking for more money.
“I would ask them to stop this," he said. "Level fund the police department to last year’s numbers, which is a zero dollar increase in taxes to the citizens of Methuen.”
"I don’t have the words to express my frustration and anger at the past half years worth of back and forth regarding the Superior Officers contract concerns within this department between the Mayor and City Council,” Finocchiaro said. “There were many ways along the way to avoid this."
But Saba said, “In the end, as a city council we’re being held hostage. Again, we can’t negotiate. That’s up to the mayor.”
On Tuesday, Mayor Jajuga asked the City Council to restore the $1.8 million it cut from the police budget last summer.
In order to prevent the city from deficit spending — which is illegal in Massachusetts for anything other than snow removal — officials said dozens of patrolmen needed to be laid off to keep the books balanced.
The funding resolution requires a majority of six of the nine councillors, and two councillors were unable to vote due to conflicts of interest.
"Simply put there is no simple answer," Finocchiaro said. "I can only say that we should NOT have to choose whether we want financial stability or public safety for our community for any reason. The circumstances that have led to this day are unacceptable in every way."
A Civil Service hearing will be held on Feb. 6 to determine whether or not there is just cause to change the department’s budget.
Officers will continue getting paid but only through March 1 when funding expires.