The lack of a tax increase did not prevent Lower Merion’s 2013 budget-approval meeting from being a long, contentious affair Wednesday night.
The Board of Commissioners, at the end of a meeting that exceeded four hours, voted 10-4 in favor of the $58 million ledger. The vote broke down along party lines, with majority Democrats in support and minority Republicans against.
The budget includes a deficit of $2.8 million that is offset with onetime revenue from commercial property tax settlements. Many commissioners said they needed to reduce the deficit to mitigate the next tax increase.
Commissioner Jenny Brown, a Republican, proposed eliminating longevity pay and deferred compensation plans for township employees, beginning in 2013. But though she found some support among a few Democrats for cracking down on such practices, none of them saw enough detail to vote in favor of such significant measures less than two weeks before the year they would take effect.
A budget reduction proposal from Republican Commissioner Scott Zelov, though, came within a single vote of passing.
Township Manager Doug Cleland included in his proposed budget a line item for $700,000 of yet-unidentified cuts to be made during 2013. Zelov sought to increase that to $1.4 million, something Cleland said would preclude his hiring eight new township employees as planned.
Zelov's motion was defeated with a 7-7 tie vote.
Chief among Democrats expressing confidence in the budget was the board president, Commissioner Liz Rogan, who emphasized the importance of maintaining quality services that make Lower Merion an attractive place to live.
Also Wednesday night:
- A new four-year contract for township police, including raises above 3 percent in each year, passed unanimously.
- The meeting was the last for retiring township secretary Eileen Trainer, honored by commissioners and staff with a proclamation and flower.
In her brief farewell speech, she said she hoped the meeting would end before midnight; it ran about 10 minutes past.
Longtime township employee Jody Kelley, most recently Cleland's administrative secretary, will succeed Trainer as township secretary in the new year.