Upper Merion facing police layoffs

UPPER MERION, Pa. - December 10, 2009

The Upper Merion Township board of supervisors approved a resolution, 5-0, for management to implement layoffs if the police bargaining unit rejects the voluntary furlough plan or other alternatives to reduce payroll.

The township will be imposing mandatory furloughs of one day a month on all of its employees.

The police say that's a violation of their contract which includes a five percent pay raise.

Prior to the vote there was a lot of passionate testimony at the podium.

"All of you were elected to make difficult decisions and this is a difficult decision, but I caution all of you on this board, if you make the wrong decision, you may be the ones laid off on Election Day," Michael Higgins said.

Action News is told Jonathan Jimenez, Jared Rhiner, and Joe Davies are among the four officers who would be laid off. Davies is a former Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq.

At several points in the night, board members remarked that they valued the police force and were hoping the bargaining unit would accept an alternative to avoid layoffs.

Among the night's speakers was a single mother who worried about the implications of losing four officers.

"I would be willing to be pay for additional police protection; I think that's when the economy is tough, that's when crime increases and we need the police department," Karen Ricca said.

Upper Merion is home to the sprawling King of Prussia Mall which is a blessing and a curse. It brings in enough revenue to keep property taxes low, but it also keeps the police busy. The township says the economy is keeping down the crowds and the potential for crime.

The township now has 66 officers.

Some residents say they'd be willing to pay more on their tax bills to prevent layoffs.

"The people need to see the police patrolling the streets and we need to make sure we're safe in the township," Kathi Dwyer said. Corporal Andy Fidler, the head of the police bargaining unit, says at this point they are not prepared to accept furloughs, believing there are others funds available.

The board says that is not the case and if they cannot find an alternative, layoffs will take place in January.

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