"Well, we poor already. Now we just be poorer."
That's Camden resident Mary Dreggs reaction to news that the city's 2011 budget is being cut 25% from last year, down to $138 million.
Camden Mayor Dana Redd told Camden City Council Tuesday afternoon that her proposed budget will freeze all non-essential spending, increase property taxes by 3% and keep libraries open. "I think everyone realizes the days of Trenton bailouts have come to an end," Redd said, "and that we have to do more with less."
But deep cuts in the police and fire budgets could eventually lead to the layoff of firefighters and police officers. The mayor says public safety is her number one priority and the city is negotiating with several unions.
" We're absolutely trying to avoid layoffs," said Al Ashley of the Fire Officers Union. "We're open to all negotiations with the city."
"We're poor people around here because of the poverty around here and we need things like that," said Camden resident Laquenta Perry. "It's going to be more crime cutting 100 cops, its already bad out there."
Before presenting her budget Mayor Redd met to explain the fiscal crisis to community leaders. "I'm not comfortable with it but this is what it has to be done," said Sheila Roberts of the Cooper Landing Civic Association. "Nothing we can do but live with it."
Delbert Nelson of the Parkside Business Association said, "In order to get things better we have to bite the bullet. So right now we're biting the bullet to make Camden a better place to live for all our citizens."
Non-uniformed Camden city employees are already furloughed one day a week. It could be September before final details about police and firefighters.