New Freedom takes step toward leaving police department
New Freedom's borough council on Monday held a public meeting that's the first step toward leaving the Southern Regional Police Department.
The issue at hand is the way the department is funded. Right now, it's done by a formula that factors in municipalities' populations, the amount of time police have to spend there and how many miles of road the municipalities have.
New Freedom's council thinks the way it's currently done isn't fair; population and police service hours are weighted the same, with mileage being less of a factor. New Freedom, the largest and most populous borough contracting with Southern Regional, would like it to be based solely on police service hours — how much time the cops spend there.
Shrewsbury requires the most service hours, though it pays the department less than New Freedom does. Because of that, said New Freedom Mayor Jeff Halapin, he and the borough council feel they have been subsidizing Shrewsbury.
"New Freedom has for a long time been subsidizing other boroughs," said Halapin, who's the vice chair of the Southern Regional police commission.
New Freedom, which has a population of about 4,400, paid the department about $487,000 this year for about 3,900 hours of service, while Shrewsbury, which has about 3,800 residents, paid about $465,000 for 4,300 hours of service, according to Southern Regional Police Chief James Boddington.
That's the core of Halapin's argument.
"You pay for what you use — it’s a simple concept," he said.
Halapin made clear that this isn't an indictment on the department — he and the council believe the police have done a good job.
The Southern Regional Police Department covers several boroughs in the southern part of the county: New Freedom, Shrewsbury, Glen Rock and Stewartstown are the four full-member municipalities, and the department also contracts part-time services to Winterstown and Railroad. Thirteen full-time officers, one part-time officer and Boddington make up the department, which also provides services to Southern York County School District and has a budget of close to $2 million.
The meeting: At the public meeting, only two residents spoke, arguing in favor of keeping the local department. One of the two, Kim Butcher, said the borough's become a nicer place to live in recent years, and he credits Boddington's department.
"One of the good changes to the borough was this police force," he said.
Butcher said he worried about the response time if the borough left Southern Regional and went with state police or one of the other regional departments.
Halapin said contingents from his borough were meeting with Southwestern Regional and York Area Regional police departments. They did this in 2010, he said, when other squabbles between the municipalities led some to look for other routes.
Halapin, who, as mayor, attends council meetings but does not have a vote unless there's a tie, said the council plans at its next meeting to vote on whether to send the letter of intent to leave. That meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12, in the borough offices at 49 High St.
State police cover any borough with no local or regional department for no cost, although troopers can't enforce local ordinances.
Glen Rock: In order for a municipality to leave Southern Regional, it has to hold a public meeting, as New Freedom did this week, and then vote to send a letter of intent to leave. That letter must be sent by the Oct. 1 that's 15 months before the municipality plans to suspend police service; that is to say, a letter sent by this October would mean a municipality could leave only as early as January 2018.
Last September, Glen Rock's borough council decided to send in a letter of intent a further year out, announcing it intended to leave the department effective Jan. 1, 2018; Boddington said Glen Rock at this point has not changed its mind, though up until the date of departure the borough can request that the police commission let it stay.
Glen Rock's beef was that the rising costs of policing had gone too high, which is a somewhat different argument than the argument over the way the department's funded. But Halapin then said he'd be keeping an eye on Glen Rock and said if the council does vote to leave and then follows through on it, it'd be coordinated with Glen Rock's would-be departure.
"We'll be terminating together, if it ends up like that," he said. "I fear for the future of Southern Regional if New Freedom drops out."
New Freedom levies 1.6 mills in taxes, which means that a resident who owns a house assessed at $100,000 has to pay the borough $160 a year. Shrewsbury levies 1.7 mills. These amounts are somewhat below average for boroughs around York County; Glen Rock levies 3.55 mills in taxes and Stewartstown 2.85 mills.
Shrewsbury meeting: Shrewsbury council president Buck Buchanan said his borough will discuss the issue of police funding at its next meeting, which is 7 p.m. Wednesday at 35 W. Railroad Ave.
Halapin said the three member municipalities that aren't Shrewsbury agreed to the formula based completely on service hours. Shrewsbury's meeting minutes show it unanimously voted that down and then failed to pass a proposal that would have been a compromise that is based more on service hours than the current formula but still factored in the other considerations.
"Shrewsbury council is very adamant you have to look at cost per capita," said Buchanan, who said his borough does not intend to leave the department.
Boddington told The York Dispatch he favors a formula in which police service hours would be the main determiner, but population and road miles would factor in a minor capacity — much like that compromise approach.
The chief said the municipalities need to stop playing politics.
"This is not about policing — this is about money," he said.
"Regionalization works," the chief said, saying that regional departments often are able to focus more on efficiency and effectiveness than a scattering of tiny local departments are. "But the downside is the focus on time and money also increases."
— Reach Sean Cotter at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SPCotterYD.