LOWER TOWNSHIP - Township Council has introduced a $24.7 million budget that would increase the amount to be collected in taxes by almost 9 percent but includes no layoffs.

The budget itself is up by only 0.48 percent, from $24,600,928 to $24,719,797. But the amount local taxpayers will fund would jump 8.81 percent, from $17,214,611 to $18,730,815.

Township Manager Kathy McPherson attributed the increase to rising costs in salaries, debt service, pensions and uncollected taxes as well as decreases in state aid and revenue.

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State aid has been reduced by $393,141, or almost 20 percent. Local revenue is down $183,000, a drop of more than 11 percent.

Salaries and wages are up by only 1.72 percent, as the township eliminated jobs over the past year through attrition, but even that modest jump comes in at $175,055. The reserve for uncollected taxes rose by more than 30 percent to almost $2 million. Debt service is up by $78,425 to more than $2.5 million.

Township Council will examine the budget for possible cuts during a budget workshop scheduled for 6 p.m. April 19 at Township Hall.

Auditor Leon Costello said there is only one way to make significant cuts to avoid a tax increase.

"The budget can't change unless you change the number of employees you have or how much you pay them," he said.

Councilman Wayne Mazurek said such cuts would affect services such as trash collection, recycling, recreation, senior citizen programs or others.

"Eliminating folks almost has to translate into eliminating services," Mazurek said.

Mayor Mike Beck said he would rather cut labor costs through attrition.

The budget would increase the tax rate by 9.2 cents for each $100 of assessed value, but officials said the increase is misleading due to a recent property revaluation that reduced assessments. Officials said without the revaluation the tax increase would be just 2.6 cents.

Beck said the last contracts giving workers raises of about 4 percent per year "was a mistake," but he said the next contract would be "a different story, period."

The raises were approved in December 2008 under the administration of former mayor Walt Craig, just weeks before Beck took office.

"Somebody signed those contracts. I don't blame the employees for taking them," Beck said.

Deputy Mayor Kevin Lare said McPherson has been talking to union representatives about making concessions before their respective contracts expire at the end of 2010 and 2011.

While the hearing and adoption vote on the budget is not scheduled until May 3, some residents spoke out during the public portion of council's meeting Monday night and focused on labor costs. Salary and wages are the township's largest expenditure, at $10.4 million.

Former township Mayor Jack Sparks said it was insane to give raises of almost 4 percent for 2010.

"Meet with the unions and see what you can do," Sparks said.

Robert Rizzo, a retired teacher from Pennsylvania, said he has not received a cost-of-living increase in 22 years.

"The senior citizens can't afford to pay anymore because they're losing money. We have people moving out of the state, and you know it," he said.

Mazurek, however, said council would have to cut more than $1 million to avoid a tax increase. He said the township used to have 54 police officers, and now there are only 39.

"We've gotten rid of stuff. Now we're down to people," Mazurek said.

McPherson said the township employs 137 full-time workers, 23 part-time workers and 21 temporary-seasonal employees. She said the winter storms also created budget problems, as the township spent $200,000 on snow removal.

Contact Richard Degener:



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