STAFFORD TOWNSHIP - Township offices, with the exception of the Police Department, Police Records, Public Works, Municipal Court and Recreation events and activities, will be closed Friday and April 1 as part of the township's furlough plan.

The Municipal Court will be closed March 29 and April 1.

The offices will be closed one normal business day per month from May through December to comply with the furlough plan, officials said. Future furlough dates and closings will be posted in April. Recreation programs (scheduled events/registrations, etc.) will not be affected by the change.

The furlough plan comes as township officials say they are bracing for significant financial challenges in the 2010 budget.

On the township's Web site, Mayor John McMenamin writes that as part of the township's contract negotiations, the township has asked all employees to agree to take one unpaid furlough day to help avoid layoffs. Since the township cannot order furlough days, the decision was up to the employees union.

McMenamin said so far the unions representing the township's clerical employees, Public Works employees and supervisors, and all nonaffiliated employees have agreed to the furlough plan.

McMenamin wrote that in order to address the ever-increasing personnel costs in the Police Department, the township is forced to proceed with the layoffs of five officers March 31.

According to McMenamin's message, the furlough days and layoffs are in response to skyrocketing personnel costs. Health benefits have increased more than 18 percent over last year, which has resulted in an increase of more than $3,000 per employee in 2010, he wrote.

McMenamin stated that the increases coupled with other personnel cost increases, including salary, overtime, pension contributions, insurance, unemployment and social security, the township is nearing $2 million in increased costs over 2009. He added that furloughs and layoffs will not completely offset the increases. The township will be fortunate if it covers half, McMenamin said.

The mayor wrote that if the remainder cannot be absorbed by other means, the municipal tax rate will increase. He added that the township is trying to create a fair and equitable balance between operational costs and tax increases that are acceptable to residents.

Joe Mrazek, a township police officer and president of Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 297, said the PBA only recently received the township's contract offer in writing.

"They're saying no layoffs in 2010, but 2010 is already a quarter over. I'm not sure what we're going to do. They could not guarantee no layoffs past 2010, so what happens in 2011 after we take the furlough?" Mrazek said.

The PBA held a meeting Wednesday evening, but Mrazek said the department has not voted on the offer. He said the offer has been forwarded to the local's attorney. The five police officers will be laid off Wednesday.

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