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Former supervisor sues Salem Township

| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 11:28 p.m.

Former Salem Township supervisor Carmella Salvatore has filed a lawsuit against the township's current administration in hopes of having the amended budget declared void.

Salvatore also claims that activities leading up to the reopening of the budget were in violation of the Sunshine Act.

Supervisors Andy Johnson and Ron Martz voted to amend the 2002 spending plan at a special meeting Feb. 15. The motion in effect called for a 1-mill tax cut approved in December to be revoked.

Salvatore claims that in January there was no official action to adopt a proposed budget, or proposed amended levy or tax rate. She also said there should be a period of 10 days during which the budget must be available at the township office for public inspection.

"The defendants herein never undertook any official action or official vote to adopt a proposed amended budget," the complaint reads.

Other claims Salvatore listed in the complaint state that a public vote was not taken and the votes were not recorded, and that written minutes of any meeting on the matter were not kept. She believes the meeting concerning the passing of an amended budget was unauthorized, and any action taken at the meeting is invalid.

"In the event that the defendants herein allege that any official action was taken during the month of January to adopt a proposed budget, such action was in willful and wanton disregard of the requirements of the Sunshine Act, and should justify the imposition of attorney's fees and costs upon the defendants. The Sunshine Act requires public agencies to hold certain meetings and hearings open to the public.

Salvatore is calling for the budget to be declared void and for an immediate injunction to prohibit the collection of any addition taxes contained within the amended budget. She also calls for any funds collected pursuant to the amended budget to be returned.

"They went ahead without going through proper procedures and raised taxes," Salvatore said yesterday. "We were criticized so badly about everything we did, every move we made. They feel they can do anything they want without going through proper procedures. I did this on behalf of people who are struggling to pay taxes."

Johnson and Martz voted to take another look at the spending plan at a meeting Jan. 17. The two said at that meeting that the previous board had left them with an insufficient amount of money to conduct township business.

When the budget was passed in December it called for a cut in property taxes from 5 mills to 4 mills.

Johnson cast the lone negative vote on the budget, while Salvatore and Ed Gieselman voted yes. At the time, Johnson said the money could better serve the township in other areas, such as aiding the township's fire companies. Martz said yesterday that the actions taken were necessary.

"We needed to address it, and we did. If they think we did something wrong, that's their prerogative," said Martz, who defeated Salvatore for the Democratic nod in the May primary election. "There were some major problems that needed to be addressed. We did what we had to do."

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