EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 16, 2009

Lawrence City Hall to be closed on Fridays

Eight unions accept 10 unpaid furlough days

By Jill Harmacinski

LAWRENCE — Starting tomorrow, City Hall will be closed Fridays as municipal workers take unpaid furlough days to prevent layoffs.

City Hall, at 200 Common St., will be closed for 10 weeks on Fridays as the city recoups $1.5 million in payroll costs to offset a deficit in the fiscal year 2009 budget, which ends on June 30.

"This bolsters the city's fiscal 2009 fiscal recovery plan," said Mark Andrews, the city's budget and finance director.

The "voluntary" furloughs were approved by eight unions representing city workers, Andrews said.

One union, a laborers union composed of 55 public works, sewer and water department workers, did not accept the furlough plan. That union — Local 3 Firemen and Oilers — is now subject to layoffs, which will be announced early next week, Andrews said.

Edmund "Ike" Gabriel, Local 3 union representative, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The lobby at City Hall will remain open on Fridays, allowing residents to leave tax and water bill payments in drop-off boxes.

Requests for documents and other city services can be written out and left in a separate box on the first floor, Andrews said.

City Hall will remain open Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Other nonunion employees, including Mayor Michael Sullivan, department heads, police and fire chiefs, also are subjected to 10 furlough days.

Similar furlough plans and cutbacks still are being worked out for police and firefighters, officials said yesterday.

Already, the Fire Department is closing one of the city's six firehouses on a revolving basis to cut back on overtime costs. And the Police Department is moving officers out of specialized units to patrol and also reducing manning on certain shifts.

Andrews said the money saved with the furloughs will plug a large portion of a $4 million deficit, which was largely fueled by an unforeseen $2.38 million drop in state aid.

The city also raised demand fees on overdue tax bills and sold the Saunders School at 243 S. Broadway, moves that raised another $1.5 million.

City Council President Patrick Blanchette, in a meeting Tuesday night, told Andrews that "all unions" should be subjected to the furlough program.

"I don't believe all unions are being asked to take the furlough. ... Most of the higher paid city employees will not be affected by this program and will not be made to do such," Blanchette said.

Blanchette also questioned whether Sullivan can close City Hall on Fridays and "halt employees' salaries without City Council approval."

"I understand that we must all help out to fight this fiscal crisis — but the same lower salaried employees have continuously taken the burden," Blanchette said.

Andrews said the furlough plans and union negotiations were handled by the city attorney's office.

"We are all in the same boat," he said.

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