City asks employees to take pay cuts

GARY Mayor Rudy Clay is asking all unionized city workers to take a 20 percent pay cut.

Gary has a big hole in its budget - so big that the mayor is asking the city's unionized workers to give up a day of work and a day's pay every week until the end of the calendar year.

"We're facing a financial Hurricane Katrina coming at us, so we're asking each employee to put a finger in the dike," Clay said.

Department heads will be working a 40-hour week, but will get paid for 32.

"So, all I'm saying to you is, we inherited this mess," Clay said.

The mayor has been appealing to city workers - as he did again Monday - to voluntarily pitch in, but many are skeptical - too many unanswered questions, they say - to simply accept a 20 percent pay cut.

"If our members are going to take a pay reduction, we feel it has to be across the board, but you have to show us facts and figures how you're taking those cuts through every department throughout the city," said Lorenzo Crowell, Service Employees Int. Union.

Gary's looking at a $12 million budget shortfall. The lion's share of that is due to late property tax collections. Many homeowners have appealed their higher tax bills and have won. Others either can't or won't pay.

City workers have already given up pay raises. Paramedics say that Saturday night there was only one working ambulance on the streets in a city of 100,000 people.

If city workers say no to voluntary pay cuts, large-scale layoffs are possible across all departments, including police who've already overwhelmingly rejected the mayor's financial Katrina analogy.

"Yeah, finger in the dike, we've heard that over an over again, but just like Katrina, no fingers would've helped," said Latonia Shields-Marsh, fraternal order of police.

Gary is not unaccustomed to budget crises, but this one may run deeper than most. Even with large-scale layoffs, which now appear likely, the city is still figuring to end the year $5 million in the red.

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