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New Freedom approves 'downright stupid' proposal to contract police services
The New Freedom Borough Council on Monday, April 9, voted to stay with the Southern Regional Police, but this time as a contracted community.
Contracted communities do not have representation on the police commission, which governs the department.
Councilman Larry O'Brien agreed with one member in the audience that it was "downright stupid," but said it was the only way to stop a motion to proceed into negotiations with another police department.
The council voted 5-1 to submit a proposal to the Southern Regional Police commission to stay with the department for five years, as a contracted community rather than as a member municipality,.
As a member municipality, New Freedom now has two seats on the police commission. The commission is composed of two officials from each member municipality — Glen Rock, Shrewsbury and Stewartstown are the other members.
If the proposal is approved by the commission, the borough will pay the same amount of money it currently pays for police services.
Council President Dennis Sarpen told a crowd of about 100 residents at Monday's meeting that New Freedom council members can't seem to mesh with the rest of the commission members.
"It's not a matter of us getting our way, it's a matter of being heard on this commission," he said.
The vote came after a motion to enter contract negotiations with Southwestern Regional Police was not carried.
New Freedom: During a March New Freedom council meeting, officials approved a similar proposal to stay with the department as a contracted community.
Councilman Bruce Merrill, a member of the police commission, said after that meeting that the contracted communities pay less, and the member municipalities pay the miscellaneous costs.
The proposal, which was seeking service at $88 an hour, was rejected by the police commission at its Wednesday, April 4, meeting.
That $88 an hour is being offered to Winterstown, Southern York County School District, and more recently, Southeastern School District. New Freedom officials have said they believet that hourly rate should be higher because they are not paying the miscellaneous costs.
Quibbling: Doug Brent, of New Freedom, addressed the council Monday and told members the amount of money they're fighting over isn't much.
“You’ve got basically pennies out of a $2 million budget that you’re quibbling over," he said.
Councilman O'Brien said that while he felt the contracted communities should be paying more, he agreed with Brent.
“I do remain convinced that we need to re-up — this has been going on too long,” he said. He proposed a motion to stay with the department until 2019.
Prior to the vote, Police Chief Jim Boddington asked the council to consider five years with the department. He said no other neighboring municipalities will want to join the department with the way they're acting.
“Show our neighbors … that we have our act together, and they may want to shake hands and join," he said.
The audience gave the chief a standing ovation after he spoke to the council.
O'Brien then modified his motion to include five years, but only he and Councilman Ken Earll voted in favor, while the others voted against it.
Southwestern: After that failed motion, Merrill motioned to enter contract negotiations with Southwestern Regional Police.
The proposal was for $700,000 a year, with one officer based in New Freedom 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This also would add four more officers to the 14-person department, he said.
This motion was met with a loud uproar from the crowd.
"There's absolutely no way we should be voting on this tonight," O'Brien said, adding that it was "out of the blue" and had not been previously discussed.
He referenced how two months ago a similar decision was tabled because members of the council were missing. Brady Terrell, a recently appointed councilman, was not present during Monday's meeting.
Brent then addressed the council again and noted that the borough would be paying more than $100,000 a year more for Southwestern Police services.
Valerie Strange, of New Freedom, also took exception with the proposal.
“How is one officer patrolling superior service to this community than what we currently have?” she asked. That question went unanswered.
"It is impossible for one officer to provide the service to the community that is required," she said.
Councilwoman Ann Shemo, who seconded Merrill's motion, rescinded it after public comment, and the motion failed.
Staying: Councilman Jeff Blum, who was not physically present at the meeting but attended digitally through a phone call, suggested staying with the department for five years under contract services.
Sarpen motioned on Blum's behalf, and everyone present but Earll voted in favor of the decision. Earll said New Freedom should stay on the police commission and that there's nothing to gain from what they were voting on.
“We need to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem,” he said.
O'Brien agreed but said it was the best alternative, especially since they had almost voted on negotiating a contract with another police department.
“I’m saying given where we started this, this is the best possible solution you’re going to get tonight,” he said.
O'Brien said that the proposal was just something to give the commission, and that it's possible their issues could be resolved in the next month or two.
Background: In January, New Freedom officials announced they were leaving Southern Regional Police Department, effective at the end of the year.
New Freedom Borough officials said at the time that the size of the department and its financial stability were the reasons for the departure. They pushed the police commission to pursue merging with another department or to look for other municipalities to join the department.
Merrill said the merger option was not well-received by the commission, so the council decided to propose the $88 an hour option, which was later rejected by the commission.
Funding: 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.
Currently the contracted communities are not under the PPU formula, according to Boddington. He said the idea is to have the four member municipalities under the formula before converting the contracted communities to it.
However, under New Freedom's proposal, the borough would be under the PPU formula still.
The police commission will meet again 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, at the New Freedom Borough building, as part of a continuation from their April 4 meeting.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.