Nine newly-hired paramedics will be laid off by New Castle County effective May 6, a move that will save the county $350,000.

    Nine newly-hired paramedics will be laid off by New Castle County effective May 6, a move that will save the county $350,000.
    County Executive Chris Coons said the layoffs became necessary once AFSCME Local 3911, the union that represents the county’s 160 paramedics and emergency communications personnel, rejected a proposal to take a 5 percent pay cut for fiscal year 2010.
    “I deeply regret this action,” Coons said, “but I have no choice but to follow through on the choice made by the membership of AFSCME Local 3911 not to accept an alternative path to share the sacrifice across its membership and keep everyone employed.”
    Local 3911 has maintained that any talks of salary cuts should come as part of negotiations on a new three-year contract, not as a separate agreement.
    Three other AFSCME unions representing 755 employees voted to accept 5 percent salary cuts – cuts that will also extend to the government’s 157 non-union employees. Those groups, which include park and sewer workers as well as clerical and managerial staff and political appointees, will not see layoffs in 2010, Coons promised.
    In total, the salary cuts made thus far will save the county roughly $3.5 million. In his March budget address, Coons said he would seek $4.8 million in salary savings for fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1.
    “I have great respect for the work of our paramedics and emergency call operators and the life saving role they serve,” Coons said. “However, our fiscal reality is that more than half of our county budget is dedicated to public safety, so we simply cannot exclude those employees from salary concessions without subjecting the residents of this county to continued tax increases in the coming years to cover our employee costs.”
    New Castle County has 81 paramedics, and this decision will not affect the current staffing level of paramedics serving in the field.
    Negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police are ongoing, Coons said.
    The salary cuts are a component of $23 million in planned cuts across the government. Those savings, combined with a proposed 25 percent property tax increase and $8 million in cash reserves, will combine to close the county’s $40 million operating deficit next year, according to the administration.
    Jesse Chadderdon is a staff reporter for the Community News, with which the Transcript is affiliated.