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Glen Rock votes to send letter of withdrawal to Southern Regional Police
The Glen Rock borough council voted Monday night to send the Southern Regional Police Department a letter announcing the borough's intention to withdraw from the department at the start of 2018.
Before the 6-1 vote, the council held an hour-and-a-half-long town hall meeting at the Glen Rock Hose & Ladder station on Hanover Street, during which many of the 40-or-so residents in attendance voiced a variety of opinions and asked questions about what was on the table.
The council's big issue with the department is money. Yearly payments from the borough of about 2,000 people to Southern Regional are closing in on $250,000, an amount that's more than a third of the borough's budget.
Taxes: Council president Richard Shiles said the borough would have to raise municipal property taxes by 0.3 mills over each of the next three years to make up for the increases in cost of Southern Regional Police coverage. That's compounded by the fact that the fact that Stewartstown had been paying an annual extra chunk as part of a buy-in deal during its first several years with the department — a timeframe that ends in 2017, leaving the remaining municipalities to make up the difference after that.
That's why the council chose 2018 as the possible withdrawal year, the council members said.
Right now, the borough levies 3.55 mills in property taxes, which means that the owner of a house evaluated at $100,000 has to pay the borough $355 per year, on top of the county and school district property taxes. That amount is neither uncommonly high nor unusually low among York County boroughs.
Under the intermunicipal agreement that forms the department, any member municipality that wishes to leave the department has to have one of these meetings and then vote to send a letter to the department and the other members by Oct. 1; the withdrawal goes into effect Jan. 1 of a year at least one year removed.
The letter isn't binding; the borough wanted to send it out more than two years in advance so officials could have time to work with the department and possibly come to an agreement that would suit both sides, Councilman Ben Wetzel said.
Council member Ben Young said money wasn't the whole story.
"It's less cost and more about our voice," which he felt wasn't being heard by the commission, he said.
Southern: The Southern Regional Police Department covers several of the boroughs in the southern part of the county: Glen Rock, Stewartstown, New Freedom and Shrewsbury are the four full-member municipalities, and the department also contracts part-time services to Winterstown and Railroad. Fourteen full-time officers, one part-time officer and Chief James Boddington make up the department, which also provides services to Southern and South Eastern school districts and has a budget of close to $2 million.
Boddington and several current and former police commissioners were on hand and addressed the crowd, speaking their pieces and answering questions.
The chief advocated that the borough stay with his department. He said it would behoove them to keep policing on a more local level "rather than having an influx of strange police" officers, as he said would be the case under state police.
Boddington spoke about what he called the "community policing effect" — the idea that having police officers who regularly work in the same communities and therefore, in theory, get to know a great deal of the people in them helps make policing better and easier.
"There's a tremendous advantage to knowing the people in your community," the chief said. "Eighty-five percent of police service is community service — not crime fighting."
Options: If Glen Rock were to leave Southern Regional, it would have a few options on the table.
The borough could turn to state police, which would cover the area free of charge, as troopers do for many other municipalities in York County and around the state.
Or Glen Rock could contract part-time services from Southern Regional or nearby Southwestern Regional Police, with state police making up the rest of the time. Or it could seek to become a full-time member of Southwestern Regional.
Wetzel said someone from Southwestern Regional had planned to be there but had gotten sick and couldn't come.
Also at the meeting were Lt. Nicole Palmer, commander of the state police barracks in Loganville, and Walt Hughes, borough council president of Red Lion, which left York Area Regional Police in favor of state police at the start of this year.
Hughes, a former Red Lion Police chief, said borough officials and residents were largely pleased with the coverage they received from state police.
"Response time has never been a problem," he said.
He spoke at some length and received scattered applause when he finished.
Residents: But some residents had their doubts.
"There's too many opportunities for things to go wrong" with a change in departments or reduction of coverage, said Glen Rock resident Terry Cox.
Other residents worried about drugs and crime in the borough's center. They said it had increased in recent years, and they thought a switch would only exacerbate it.
Deena Pace, a Realtor, had the concerns one might expect from someone in her profession.
"What is it going to do to your property values?" she asked of her fellow Glen Rockers.
Hughes said property values in Red Lion were unchanged by the switch.
Though the Glen Rock council said several times this decision didn't mean they were necessarily planning on leaving the department — they just wanted to be able to explore other options — Cox wondered if the decision would be "like the first step down a hill."
"You're gonna force yourself into a corner and have to leave," he said.
— Reach Sean Cotter at firstname.lastname@example.org.