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U. Merion board OKs layoffs of four officers

They would take place if a financial compromise over the police contract is not reached.

Upper Merion Township supervisors last night authorized layoffs of four of the borough's 64 police officers in January if a financial compromise is not reached.

The township agreed earlier this year to a five-year contract that would award police a 5 percent raise in 2010, but officials now say the township can't afford the higher salaries. Police officers have refused a township request to take an across-the-board 96-hour unpaid furlough, staggered over the course of 2010, which supervisors offered as an alternative to the layoffs.

"At this point, we're kind of at a stalemate," Upper Merion Police Cpl. Andy Fidler, head of the bargaining unit, said last night.

With a 5 percent raise, base salary for a patrol officer with four years on the force in 2010 would be $75,122. The township, which includes the King of Prussia mall, has a prodigious tax base.

More than 100 residents and observers packed the audience for last night's Board of Supervisors meeting, during which supervisors were shouted at repeatedly to find ways to avoid the layoffs.

The supervisors voted, 5-0, to authorize the layoffs, but did not give a date in January when they would happen.

"This is a very, very difficult decision," Supervisor Edward McBride said. "We've talked with our negotiating team and told them this is the last thing we want to do."