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A New Freedom councilman announced Wednesday the borough will be withdrawing from the Southern Regional Police Department at the end of 2018.

The announcement came at the department’s monthly police commission meeting Wednesday, Jan. 4, during which one of Shrewsbury Borough’s representatives had asked the members to make five-year commitments to the department.

 “We’ve been together all these years,” Shrewsbury Borough Council President Richard "Buck" Buchanan told the commission. “If we’re going to view other opportunities and directions, we should do it as an entity and not individuals.”

New Freedom Borough Councilman Bruce Merrill told the commission that wouldn’t be happening.

He said his council had met the night before and voted unanimously to exercise its right to leave the department.

It wasn’t the first time New Freedom representatives have said they were leaving Southern Regional, but the latest news caught fellow commissioners off guard.

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.

The commission is made up of members of the borough councils of the full-member municipalities.

Last year, New Freedom and Glen Rock submitted letters of intent to leave the department by the end of 2017, citing funding issues.

More: 'Light at end of tunnel' for Southern Regional negotiations?

Both boroughs were concerned about the department's funding formula — which had been in place since 2001 — that factored in municipalities' populations, the amount of time police spend there and how many miles of road the municipalities have.

A consultant hired by the police commission proposed a new formula that would allow municipalities to purchase service hours, known as "Police Protection Units" or PPUs, which the chief of police would allocate appropriately.

All of the full-member municipalities agreed to remain with the department through the end of 2018 to see how the new formula worked out.

The police commission began funding based on PPUs last July, Merrill said, planning to gather a year’s worth of data before the July 1 deadline for member municipalities to have a withdrawal plan in place.

He told the commission that New Freedom made the announcement now to allow more time to plan for the split.

The regional department is now headquartered in New Freedom’s borough building, and Merrill confirmed for the commission that New Freedom intends to move its own new department into that space next January.

Glen Rock, which last year also notified the commission of its intent to leave the department, has yet to make a decision on a five-year contract, but is willing to continue discussions depending on data from the PPUs, representatives said at the meeting.

New Freedom’s decision to withdraw was not driven strictly on finances, Merrill said.

“Over the last year and a half, it became clear to us (that) there’s much more stability in a department of 50, 60, 80, 90, 100 officers than there is with 12 or 13 officers,” New Freedom Councilman Larry O’Brien added.

John Trout, Glen Rock’s mayor and one of its representatives on the commission, said New Freedom’s announcement “certainly is a game changer.”

He said the commission had been in discussion with other departments about a possible merger, but "I can't see spinning wheels talking to organizations about a merger when now I’ve got to be looking for a new home."

O'Brien told the commission the borough’s decision was not an attempt to “sneak around or do something on our own.”

He appealed to the other municipalities at the meeting to consider a merger with another department, saying “there would be more opportunities for more of us than fewer of us.”

New Freedom is weighing several options and has not decided on another police department, O’Brien said, and Merrill later added that borough officials hope to have a decision sometime in February.

Roy Burkins, a Stewartstown councilman and member of the commission, said the commission now must wait and see if any other municipalities decide to leave. If only two municipalities stayed, the department would have to be downsized, he suggested.

Southern Regional Police Chief James Boddington made one last pitch.

“Is there anything that can be done to change your mind?” he asked Merrill during the meeting. “Is there anything fixable about this?”

Merrill confirmed New Freedom’s decision is final.

“We are moving on,” he said.

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