STAFFORD TOWNSHIP - A crowd of area police officers is expected to attend the last Township Council meeting tonight before five police officers are laid off here March 31.

Stafford Township Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 297 President Joe Mrazek said he posted information about the meeting on the Stafford Township Police Department's Facebook page.

"It probably won't be as big as last time, but we'll have guys here," Mrazek said. "We want them to know that it's still on our minds."

About 500 local police officers and residents packed the township meeting March 2 to show support for five police officers who will be laid off next week as a result of what some township officials are calling a budget shortfall.

Township Administrator James Moran said the layoffs would help close a $2 million budget gap and will save the township $600,000. But some officials say they are not so sure layoffs are necessary.

"Without seeing a budget, it's very difficult to say if we're that desperate that we need to lay off five police officers. We haven't had any meetings to discuss the budget. I don't know anything about our revenue side and Jim Moran keeps telling the council that he's working on the budget," Councilman John Spodofora said.

Spodofora added that he served as a councilman under previous Mayor Carl Block and that by late March each year, officials had met several times to discuss the budget.

Spodofora said that before the decision was made to lay off five police officers, the Council, Moran and Mayor John McMenamin did not discuss a 10-year financial plan prepared by previous township administrator Paul Shives. The 132-page report suggests reducing the Police Department by one officer.

"I don't know if anyone else on the council has read the report besides myself. I did mention it during our previous budget hearing. I tried to explain it," Spodofora said.

When the report was written, he said township officials felt there were certain areas where they could downsize without impacting services to the public.

"We thought the police changes could be done through attrition and we would lose one officer, but not to this extent," he said. "I think these suggestions should be being followed right now. We should be looking at it and updating it on a yearly basis. This long-range financial plan should be a living, breathing document."

In a recent e-mail to The Press of Atlantic City, Shives, who now is business administrator in Toms River, wrote that when the report was prepared in 2007-08, officials looked at reductions in force that may be possible due to a slowing of the growth rate in the township. That was well before the economic downturn that hit in the latter part of 2008 and into 2009, Shives added.

According to the report, there were 11 positions officials felt at the time were possible candidates for elimination as shown in the report based on a "leveling out" of the service.

In many if not most of the cases and positions in the departments, officials were aware that individuals would be retiring and the township would be able to eliminate the positions largely through attrition, Shives said.

Shives wrote that officials knew that a captain would be retiring in the Police Department during the time the report was prepared, which in fact has happened. The governing body felt that the management structure in the Police Department could be reduced to one captain at that time, Shives said.

A reduction of force in the Building Inspection Department was suggested because officials anticipated a decrease in permit activity. Four positions were targeted for cuts in that department, Shives wrote. However, shortly after completion of the report, the township entered into intergovernmental agreements with both Beach Haven and Barnegat Light to provide those services, so the reduction in force was not necessary.

Shives said he is fairly certain that a reduction of at least one clerical position would still be possible.

McMenamin and Moran both refused to comment on the report's suggestions.

In an e-mail to The Press, Moran wrote that he has been instructed to forward all requests for information to McMenamin for response.

"Please do not call me for any information," Moran wrote.

When reached by telephone, McMenamin said he had no comment on the report's findings.

Township Council is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. at the Township Building, 260. E. Bay Ave., Manahawkin.

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