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Fired New Orleans city workers get final paychecks
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AFP) Oct 15, 2005
Final paychecks were issued Friday to thousands of New Orleans city workers laid off in the wake of ruinous hurricanes, according to city officials.

"In addition, all employees who are part of the layoff are asked to turn in any city property immediately, including cell phones, cars and fuel cards," Mayor Ray Nagin said in a message posted Thursday on the city website.

Aftershocks from hurricanes Katrina and Rita continued to batter New Orleans despite signs the crippled city was limping back to life.

"There is no last minute reprieve," Nagin spokeswoman Tammy Frazier told AFP. "This is the last paycheck they will receive."

While bars, restaurants and other businesses were gradually being reopened in the mostly desolate city, most of the residents were still gone and the once-bustling streets were deserted.

Bar operators in the city's famed French Quarter were threatening on Friday to host a midnight party to protest a 12:01 am to 6:00 am curfew they complained is stifling the traditionally festive neighborhood's revival.

The absence of businesses and residents stripped the city of its tax base, prompting Nagin to lay off some 3,000 "non-essential" city workers, about half of the New Orleans workforce.

Nagin tried in vain to get multi-million dollar loans from banks to keep the city workers on payroll, according to Frazier.

"As we look toward a brighter future for our beloved city, we are faced with difficult decisions," Nagin said in a written release.

"We sought funding from every possible public and private source, but unfortunately, we did not receive enough to meet all our needs."

Police, fire and emergency medical personnel remain on the payrolls, with US federal funds paying the bill for overtime.

Nagin expected the cutbacks will save the city between five million and eight million dollars a month.

The layoffs came as stores, restaurants, cleaning and construction companies throughout the New Orleans area went begging for workers.

Local stores were offering to pay from nine to 12 dollars hourly for the usually minimum-wage jobs such as cashiers and stock clerks. One burger chain reportedly offered "signing bonuses" of 6,000 dollars for counter workers.

Laid off city workers whose homes were ruined have no reason to return to New Orleans, said Jacqueline Edwards, who worked in the New Orleans planning department for 23 years.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has urged President George W. Bush to modify federal rules to allow federal aid to pay the wages of local government employees in communities whose tax bases have been wiped out by the storms.

She has also asked Bush to give Louisiana businesses priority in hiring and contracting for the reconstruction effort.

Bush has responded by saying the burden of rebuilding should fall to the private sector.

At least 1,260 people were killed by Katrina when it ripped through the southern United States on August 29, including 1,025 in Louisiana, the hardest-hit state.

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