BY NICHOLAS J.C. PISTOR, Post Dispatch
EAST ST. LOUIS â€¢Â The Rev. Joseph Tracy said heâ€™s tired of going to funerals. And now, he suspects heâ€™ll beÂ East Saint Louis, crimeÂ going to more of them.
“Itâ€™s open field day now,” said Tracy, the pastor of Straightway Baptist Church here. “The criminals are going to run wild.”
Gang activity. Drug dealing. Cold-blooded killing. Tracy worries that a decision to shrink the police force by almost 30 percent will bring more of everything.
The pastor voiced his concern on Friday at a raucous special City Council meeting at which East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks announced that the city will layoff 37 employees, including 19 of its 62 police officers, 11 firefighters, four public works employees, and three administrators. The layoffs take effect on Sunday.
Parks said the weak economy has robbed the city of badly need money. For example, revenue from the Casino Queen was $900,000 below budget expectations last year. There are no signs of improvement, Parks said.
“I want our citizens to know we have some of the bravest police officers and firefighters in the country,” Parks said. “But we donâ€™t have the money to pay them. We have to have fiscal responsibility.”
City officials wanted police and fire unions to accept a furlough program that would have required employees to take two unpaid days in each twice monthly pay period. If accepted, emergency responders would have seen a pay cut of about 20 percent for the rest of the year.
Parks said the two sides couldnâ€™t reach an agreement. On Friday, he stared at a standing-room only crowd and told his emergency response chiefs words they didnâ€™t want to hear: “Tell your workers to start packing their things.”
The news spurred shouts from the crowd.
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