North Codorus Twp. officials consider leaving Southwestern Regional Police

Southwestern Regional Police Chief Greg Bean holds a press conference on the murder of Samantha Stein, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

North Codorus Township officials are shopping for a new police department, citing rising costs at Southwestern Regional.

The department also covers Spring Grove and Heidelberg and Manheim townships.

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Supervisor Rodney Shearer noted that Jackson Township — which is almost the same size as North Codorus but is served by Northern York County Regional Police — pays $100,000 less.

And costs are rising — this year's Southwestern Regional Police budget is $992,000, and next year it will be about $1.05 million, Shearer said.

The township did not sign off on the police department's 2015 and 2018 budgets — last year submitting a list of requests to the department to lower costs, which they plan to look at again this year.

The other three municipalities approved them, but all four are required for passage.

But Chief Greg Bean said the department's hourly rates are the lowest in the state, according to audits provided to the department that compare per capita costs, and the average increase has been less than 1 percent for the past four years.

Part of the reason for the low average, however, is the fact that when a budget is not passed, it automatically reverts to the previous year's budget — meaning the budget is flat, Shearer said.

There have been previous annual increases of around 10 percent, he said.

Bean said higher percentages could have been because of early fluctuating costs when the department was newer, but they've been fairly stable for the past eight to 10 years.

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"Obviously we want you to be happy," he told the township's board of supervisors at their meeting Tuesday, Sept. 18, but he hopes that after a 16-year partnership they can work something out.

Apples to apples: As it stands now, the only way to reduce costs in Southwestern is to reduce hours, Bean said.

Township supervisors agreed, stating that police assessed North Codorus' needs in 2006 and determined it could use just 140 hours of service per week — it currently uses 253 hours — but the other member municipalities could not take the unused hours.

"If you’re going to say we’re not getting apples for apples, no, we’re not," said Supervisor Chairman Nelson Brenneman, of comparing prices to other departments. "But we don’t need apples."

Southwestern cannot cover fewer hours without cutting personnel, but it could dilute costs by bringing in other municipalities, which Bean said would be the best option.

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Right now, North Codorus has the highest population out of the department's four municipalities and pays about 48 percent for an equal percentage of police service in return. 

But with more partners, costs and hours would be further split — a major benefit of regionalization, which Pennsylvania municipalities have not fully embraced.

The state has 1,200 police departments — the most in the country — and only 37 are regional. 

"The conversations are ongoing," Bean said of talking to other municipalities, but the township has been waiting for more to join since the department formed in 2002.

Six or seven municipalities were set to sign on before they dropped out — one reason why the police building is around twice the size of what's needed now, Shearer said.

Meanwhile, the department now has three more officers to support compared to when it formed — but Bean assured the township staffing is frugal.

At 0.8 officers per 1,000 residents, time can be split about 50-50 between responding to calls, for example, and proactive work such as patrolling.

This ratio is recommended by the state, Bean said, and although coverage could be thinner, it would cut back on that proactive work, which can be detrimental to preventing crimes. 

The township has one year until Southwestern's contract is up for renewal.