STAFFORD TOWNSHIP — The crowd was not as large as at a previous meeting, but residents and local police officers once again showed up to speak out against the impending layoffs of five police officers.

The officers will be laid off March 31 after the Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 297 failed to respond to a contract offer that provided no raises in 2009 and 3 percent raises through 2012. The officer's jobs would have been spared had the Police Department accepted the contract, which also called for all officers to take 10 furlough days this year.

Township Administrator James Moran said the layoffs will represent a savings of $600,000, which translates to a cent and a half on the tax rate.

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Retired Harvey Cedars Police Chief Jerry Falkowski, who lives in Stafford, said he is willing to have his taxes increased to keep the five officers. But Moran said the township doesn't have the leeway to raise taxes any higher because the township is at the top of its state-mandated cap. Moran added that there is $32 million tied up in salaries, benefits and other costs.

"But I take offense when comments are made that taxpayers can't afford the police department and other services," Falkowski said.

Moran said keeping five officers would cost about $45 per taxpayer.

"For $45 we're sending five officers to unemployment? That's unacceptable," Falkowski said.

"We're putting a dollar amount on the heads of people with families. I would rather take an additional tax," he said.

Councilman Stephen Fessler, whose son is a township police officer, said a $45 increase would mean nothing to him.

"But there are some people like seniors who don't have nice pensions who survive on $1,200 a month," Fessler said.

Fessler added that no council member wants to see the officers lose their jobs.

"You're still paying Chief Conroy to sit at home and we're laying off five police officers," said Joseph Mrazek, a township police officer and president of PBA Local 297.

Township police Chief Thomas Conroy resigned earlier this month. The details of his retirement package have not been released by the township.

Kevin Lyons, a PBA State Delegate, Long Beach Township police officer and Stafford township resident, spoke at the March 2 meeting and spoke again Tuesday against the layoffs.

"Is it the time or place that we should be paying people to stay home? I think it's something that should be considered," Lyons said.

Resident Stephanie Allen said laying off the officers harms safety.

"Can you look at me and tell me my life's not worth $600,000? These officers risk their lives every day. We're not Camden or Newark, but they don't know if they'll come home every night," Allen said.

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