The Camden, NJ, Layoffs Underscore Budget Woes for Cities and States
A huge budget deficit and declining state aid have forced the City of Camden, NJ, to lay off about half of its police force and one-third of its firefighters. This week’s move threatens to make a city deemed as unsafe even more unsafe. Based on 2009 data, the city was ranked by CQ press, which compiles such rankings, as the nation’s second most dangerous city. In the two previous years, it ranked first.
The need to cut services and spending to reign in budget shortfalls is understood. To take action to tackle the problem is the responsible thing to do. But lay off nearly half of the police force in one of our most dangerous cities? Hum, let me think about that: its crime rate and drug problem were out of control when it had a full police force, and now the same city has decided to cut its force almost in half. The increased unemployment as a result of the layoffs coupled with substantially reduced police protection and fire-fighting capability are a bad combination for such a city.
That does not seem to be the most prudent thing to do, but if the budgeting decision city officials made was the best plan of action among its options then that really underscores the tough decisions our cities are faced with.
Camden is not alone. In Albany, NY, for example, Mayor Bloomberg has proposed budget cuts in an effort to reduce the fiscal year 2012 deficit gap to 2.4 billion dollars. Though the final form of the budget will not be known until next month, some expect the city to fall as much as $10 billion short. Under that scenario, the city also stands to lose up to $2 billion dollar in state aid due to an across-the-board reduction at that level, which will increase the city’s fiscal year 2012 deficit gap by that amount.
This budget cutting exercise at the city and state levels is not the exception but the rule these days. Painful cuts in services to reduce spending are coming to your city or town, if they have not already. There will be no perfect solution. But the Camden layoffs highlight the need for municipalities to do a serious sanity check on where they allow the budget ax to fall.