MATTESON, Ill. (WLS) —
South suburban Matteson made the decision to avoid police and firefighter layoffs, if possible, and take a look at other options to fill a massive budget hole. Officials bowed to pressure from those who said layoffs would have made the village less safe.
It was standing room only at Matteson’s Village Hall as the board of trustees’ meeting drew residents and village workers on Monday night. Tensions ran high until village president Andre Ashmore made a statement.
“I cannot and will not support massive layoffs at this particular time,” Ashmore said.
The board effectively tabled proposed cuts in the number of first responders that the unions say would have reduced the police force by nearly half and the fire department by one-third.
“I think they realized that the residents made their voice very clear, that they wanted them to look at other ventures besides public safety,” said Ray Violetto, director of Metropolitan Alliance of Police.
“Optimistic. Cautiously optimistic. Don’t want to buy in completely, but I’m hopeful,” said Scott Gilliam, president, Associated Firefighters of Matteson.
Talk of layoffs began several weeks ago as the village was faced with a massive budget hole of $8 million.
“When your dollars get short, you have to be able to adjust. Just like we’re all doing, there is what’s called belt-tightening,” said Brian Mitchell, Matteson village administrator.
Village officials had acknowledged layoffs likely would affect services, but said it would rely on mutual aid assistance from neighboring police and fire departments.
On Monday night, Ashmore said he’d faced insults and intimidation in recent weeks and crime in the village had spiked because of the layoff threat. He said the village should explore other ways to generate revenue before considering cutting workers.
“This is the right move because you can’t immediately cut public safety employees for a community this size with the business that they have,” Violetto said.
The proposed police and fire layoffs would have saved a little less than $3 million. The village is $8 million in the red.
One idea to raise revenue that was mentioned Monday night is privatizing the village’s water system.