Nearly half of Lower Merion's municipal employees will receive forthcoming pay raises and immediate pension contribution refunds under the terms of an extended contract.
The township's Board of Commissioners, in a 9-5 vote, passed a resolution Wednesday extending the Workers Association (WA) union contract by one year through 2015, and giving those 207 nonpolice employees a 2.25 percent wage-rate increase for that final contract year.
The four-year, preexisting WA contract would have expired at the end of 2014, prompting Commissioner Jenny Brown to question the board's haste in reopening and affirming an amended contract rather than going through a longer negotiation process with the union.
"There was no need to rush this through," Brown said Thursday after Wednesday's late-night board meeting. She voted against the resolution along with commissioners Brian A. Gordon, Lewis F. Gould Jr., Philip S. Rosenzweig, and V. Scott Zelov.
Before Wednesday's meeting, Commissioner Rick Churchill said a majority of the board members favored the one-year contract extension because the township's longtime manager, Doug Cleland, is retiring next month.
Cleland has negotiated several employee contracts during his 10 years as township manager. His retirement means the township will soon have to hire a new manager.
By extending the WA contract through 2015, "we don't have to throw the new manager into the fire right away," Churchill said. "If [Cleland] decided to stay on, then this [one-year contract extension] probably would not have happened."
The extended contract will cost the township about $262,000, according to township officials. Most of that cost is from the 2.25 percent base wage-rate increase for 2015. About $7,000 of that cost is from the WA employees' receiving an immediate 1 percent giveback on money they have contributed to their pensions retroactive to Jan. 1.
Brown said it was a "bad idea" to reduce employees' contributions to their pensions, whereas Churchill said the township could afford the pension giveback, saying the township has a strong pension outlook and a "triple-A bond rating because we take care of business."
The board originally considered taking $60,000 from the township's Municipal Police Pension Fund and adding it the Non-Uniform Pension Fund, but that plan was scrapped after the police union objected.
The WA represents public works and parks and recreation employees as well as parking meter maintainers, technical staff and administrative employees. It does not represent the township's 136 police officers. The township has 421 full-time and 59 part-time municipal employees.