Southern Regional Police commission rejects New Freedom's proposal
New Freedom's proposal to stay with Southern Regional Police Department as a contracted community was voted down Wednesday night.
“We’re never going to accept your last proposal — it’s not going to happen," said Andrew Stewart, Glen Rock councilman and member of the commission.
New Freedom officials announced in January they would exit the regional department at the end of the year, leaving Glen Rock, Shrewsbury and Stewartstown as the three member municipalities for the department.
After months of discussion, the New Freedom Borough Council decided to send a proposal to the police commission following the March council meeting, asking to be placed under contracted services instead of being a member municipality. That would remove the borough from the police commission, which governs the department, and would also remove administrative costs from them.
Administrative costs are currently divided among the four member municipalities.
During the latest police commission meeting Wednesday, April 4, members of the commission voted to reject New Freedom's proposal.
Larry O'Brien, New Freedom councilman and member of the commission, said he will be making a motion at the next borough council meeting to remain with the department.
Proposal: The issue New Freedom officials have is that the amount of money charged per hour for contracted communities and school districts is too low.
The police department currently serves Railroad and Winterstown as contracted communities. The department also provides services to Southern York County School District and began serving South Eastern School District last month.
O'Brien said that South Eastern was offered services for the remainder of the school year at $88 an hour.
“If you can do it at that rate for everybody else, why can’t you do it for us?” he said.
Gail Prego, the financial administrator for the department, noted that the school districts have a different model of coverage. Additionally, the two contracted communities don't require the amount of coverage that New Freedom is requesting, which is 24/7 coverage.
“That’s very different than a couple contracted people," she said.
Stewartstown Mayor Robert Herzberger said that, according to his calculations, at the $88 an hour rate, New Freedom would save about $100,000 a year.
"Well, that $100,000 doesn't disappear," he said. The mayor said the other members would absorb that.
Herzberger also said that if every municipality became contracted, the department would generate about $1.5 million in revenue, and the police budget is about $2 million.
“It’s impossible for us to do that," he said.
Formula: The department has been using a new funding formula called Police Protection Units, or PPUs, since July 2017, after New Freedom and Glen Rock submitted letters of intent to leave at the end of that year, citing funding issues. That method allows municipalities to purchase service hours, which the chief 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. Shrewsbury and Stewartstown had since committed to five years with the department. Glen Rock had committed to three.
However, during Wednesday's meeting, Glen Rock Mayor John Trout, chair of the commission, read a letter from the Stewartstown Borough Council stating that the borough would not be committing to five years with the department.
The borough had committed to five years under the condition that all other member municipalities were willing to commit as well. Since that is not the case, the borough is now stating that it intends to leave the department by the end of 2018, as the council had intended before committing to five years, according to the letter.
The borough had given a notice of intent to leave the department by the end of 2018 in August 2017, according to meeting minutes.
Herzberger said Stewartstown is concerned that the police department will not be able to sustain itself with only three municipalities. He said the borough will likely decide what it will do next with the police department once New Freedom makes its next decision.
Roy Burkins, Stewartstown councilman and member of the committee, said staying with PPUs is the only way for New Freedom to stay.
“It’s gonna be PPUs — that’s what we agreed to go upon,” he said.
Buck Buchanan, council president for Shrewsbury and commission member, shared similar thoughts.
“We all agreed to live with those numbers for a year and a half, and that’s still where we are," he said.
Outcry: Wednesday's meeting was a full house compared to previous meetings. Many people spoke up and criticized New Freedom.
Paul Stadler, a Shrewsbury resident, tore up an information sheet given out to the crowd by O'Brien. He criticized how New Freedom decided on its own to withdraw from the department, saying that it was not a way to find a compromise or to negotiate.
“You’re playing politics, you're playing money games, when you should be looking at the greater good." he said. "The greater good is policing.”
Doug Brent, of New Freedom, noted that the contracted communities only make up a small percentage of the Southern Regional Police budget.
"Get real, Larry," he said, speaking to O'Brien. Brent asked how would charging those communities for administrative time affect their bottom line.
Officer William Hanson said the officers have to suffer by the commission's failures.
"We have to do our jobs, and we also have to take care of our families, and as you continue to kick the can down the road, we wonder what we're going to do tomorrow or the next day — that's what's wrong," he said.
Burkins also took aim at New Freedom, saying he has "heartburn" with members of New Freedom Borough Council.
"Every meeting you guys come here, you change your attitude," he said.
He said the other three municipalities are paying more from the switch to PPUs, and that New Freedom is saving about $70,000 a year.
“We stepped up the plate, I haven’t seen them step up to nothing,” Burkins said.
O'Brien admitted the initial vote to leave Southern Regional Police was a mistake.
“I think that mistake was made out of timing constraints and with frustration with the commission," he said.
O'Brien said it's his sense that the New Freedom Borough Council will vote to stay with the department.
“We are prepared, I believe, to move forward with Southern Regional Police,” he said.
The police commission meeting was continued until Tuesday, April 17, so that the commission can respond more quickly to whatever New Freedom Borough Council votes to do next.
The New Freedom Borough Council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday, April 9, at the New Freedom Community Center, 150 E. Main St.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.