Camden will lay off more than 150 police officers, 77 firefighters, and about 150 other employees unless the mayor can wrest concessions in union contracts in the coming days, according to union officials and employees.
The cuts, described as the worst-case scenario, would amount to more than a third of the city's unionized workforce.
Mayor Dana L. Redd would not provide details of her estimates of the number of layoffs because negotiations with the bargaining units continue.
But she met with firefighters, police officers, and city employees Thursday in separate closed-door meetings to directly explain the harsh budget scenario: After years of bailouts from Trenton to close budget holes, Camden might not get all of the $54 million in state aid it needs to remain solvent.
And even if all that money comes through, the city still could not afford to pay all its employees.
In a meeting with police, according to several officers in attendance, Redd touched on the two available options to avoid major layoffs: 26 furlough days and a 10 percent pay cut, or no furlough days and a 20 percent pay cut. Under either arrangement, extra pay for accumulated years of service, working off-hour shifts, and buying uniforms would be eliminated.
Firefighter Pete Perez, head of the Public Safety Committee of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 788, said the mayor was looking at 77 layoffs of rank-and-file firefighters, along with 27 demotions of officers.
"I don't see how the Fire Department would function," Perez said. "Reducing the Fire Department to close to 50 percent - you would not have a Camden Fire Department."
Karl Walko, who represents civilian employees for Camden County Council No. 10, said he was told his members could be facing 150 layoffs.
"I don't know how the city is going to operate," Walko said.
Redd spoke in somber terms to hundreds of nonuniformed city employees, saying there would be layoffs but adding: "I will work very hard to maintain as many positions as we can.
"I do have concern for each and every one of you in the room," she said. "I understand that some of you cannot make your mortgage payments, I understand that some of you don't have access to food."
Later, in an interview, she said the unions - all of which are in contract negotiations - must make concessions to alleviate the pain.
"The ball's in their court," she said.
Redd said her budget team was also looking at ways to increase revenue by, for example, increasing liquor-license fees.
The frequency of trash pick-up has already been reduced, saving $1 million over three years.
A layoff plan will be filed with the state on Oct. 15. Approval would be given within a month, and layoffs would take effect Jan. 1, Redd said.