New Freedom reconsiders leaving Southern Regional Police
Two months after the New Freedom Borough Council voted to leave Southern Regional Police Department by the end of the year, the council has come up with a way to potentially remain with the force.
On Monday, March 12, the council voted to draft a contract for three more years with the police department, but only as a contracted community.
New Freedom is currently a member municipality, alongside Glen Rock, Shrewsbury and Stewartstown. Two officials from each borough make up the police commission, which governs the regional police department.
Contracted communities such as Railroad and Winterstown purchase services separately and are not part of the commission.
Initially, officials maintained that the problem was the department's size and financial stability. But Councilman Larry O'Brien said Monday that that wasn't the case.
“Anybody who tells you it’s not about money — it's always about money," he told a roomful of about 200 concerned residents.
New contract: Should New Freedom become a contracted community, it will join Railroad, Winterstown and Southern York County School District.
New Freedom officials said they believe the contracted communities should be paying more. The police commission estimates, using a funding formula study done by a consultant last year, that these contracted communities should be paying $88 an hour for police service.
“If they’re willing to sell it to those other municipalities, they should be willing to sell it to us at $88 as well,” O'Brien said.
Bruce Merrill, a councilman and member of the police commission, said the member municipalities are footing the bill for miscellaneous costs that the contracted communities aren't paying for.
Merrill said he spoke to many residents who don't agree with that.
"Anybody who spoke with me agreed that we should not pay more than what the other communities are paying," he said.
Merrill said the hourly costs, alongside the miscellaneous costs, bring the members' costs up. O'Brien said should the commission approve their contract at $88 an hour, it would save the borough about 20 percent.
That contract, once drafted by the solicitor, will be presented to the Southern Regional Police commission during its next meeting on April 4.
'Terrible job of communicating': O'Brien admitted that the council made a mistake in announcing its decision to leave the department by the end of 2018. He said they were more worried about negotiation and less worried about communication.
"This borough does a terrible job of communicating," he said.
The last time the borough threatened to leave the department, it was unhappy with the police funding formula. Soon after, the formula was changed.
With this new contract proposal, the borough will find out what the actual hourly rate is for contracted police services, O'Brien said.
Contracted service: Under contracted service, the municipalities purchase a set amount of police hours from the department.
Chief Jim Boddington said at the meeting that the services are the same.
“It’s not a different service, but it’s different priorities," he told the council.
He said if there are two calls coming in for something like a parking complaint, and one is from a member municipality and the other is from a contracted community, then officers will typically go to the member municipality first.
That difference isn't there for more serious calls, according to the chief.
“If it’s a domestic or a serious call — absolutely it’s the same,” Boddington said.
The police department is based in the New Freedom office at 49 E. High St. Residents asked if it will remain there should New Freedom become a contracted community.
O'Brien said the police department could still remain there and that the borough would have to enter into a rental agreement on that space.
Merging: During the February council meeting, New Freedom officials voted to send a letter to the police commission recommending the department look into merging with another regional department or come up with a committee to aggressively seek other municipalities to join the department.
The merger option wasn't well-received at the last police commission meeting, so New Freedom decided not to present that option at the meeting Monday, according to Merrill.
"This would be the next best option for Southern Regional," Merrill said.
With New Freedom as a contracted community, the department could still grow, which is what New Freedom wanted, Merrill said after the meeting.
"This gives (the commission) three more years to get their act together," Merrill said.
The commission meets again at 7 p.m. April 4 at the New Freedom building, 49 E. High St.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.