New London budget ax leads to departure of five city employees

New London — The City Council next week will take up proposed settlement agreements for some of the five city employees who were either laid off or opted for an early retirement as the result of the city’s budget crisis.

The list of layoffs includes public works employees William Watkins and Valerie Kokoska, Assistant City Clerk Dawn Currier and purchasing agent Alicia Smith. Economic development coordinator Ned Hammond has agreed to retire after 27 years as a city employee. Hammond’s last day tentatively is set for mid-January. The others officially are off the city’s payroll after this week.

Mayor Michael Passero said Hammond’s departure, with his institutional knowledge, is a “terrible loss to the city."

Kokoska is a public works administrative manager who has 33 years of service to the city and was earning a yearly salary of about $68,000. Watkins, a public works superintendent with 13 years of service in the city, was earning $103,000. Both of their positions were eliminated.

Personnel administrator Tina Collins said terms of their retirement benefits were worked out by the Pension Committee earlier this week but have not yet been finalized. A tentative agreement also is in place for Hammond, she said. Employees are eligible for retirement benefits at age 57.

Currier, who is not a union employee and has worked as the assistant city clerk for the past five years was earning $52,000, while Smith earned $80,600. It remained unclear Wednesday if those positions would be eliminated. Hammond, an employee of the Office of Development and Planning, was earning about $94,000 — 75 percent, or $70,731, of that salary was grant funded, Collins said.

Passero said he did not think that Hammond's position would be eliminated. ODP Director Tammy Daugherty declined comment.  

A representative from the finance department was not available to comment on the total cost savings for the city as the result of reduction in employees.

Currier, a city resident, had made a public appeal for her job during a City Council meeting in October, telling the council “I am not just a line item but a dedicated city employee who would suffer greatly if I lost my job.” She was not immediately available to comment for this report but her statement had symbolized the pain the city was suffering this year.

The layoffs were the result of a particularly tough year for the city financially. The City Council, which has repealed its first passed budget to satisfy a petition and outcry over the spending increase, faced months of uncertainly because of the lack of a state budget. What started as a more than 9 percent tax increase was reduced to about a 6.69 percent increase after a state budget finally was passed.

Passero said the budget deliberations that led to the layoffs were difficult for himself and councilors alike but unavoidable, given the city's fiscal position. The Board of Education has struggled with its own cuts and froze several unfilled positions. The school board will contemplate even more cuts in the coming weeks.

Passero said the city remains in “full austerity mode” because of uncertainties related to the state budget. He said he has already learned that the state has passed along a portion of the cost of a renter’s rebate program for the elderly and disabled to municipalities, something that would cost the city $195,000 and was not budgeted for.

g.smith@theday.com

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