Cost of police service divides Hallam council
Several Hallam Borough Council members are protesting a proposed 66% increase in cost for police services from Hellam Township over three years, which could result in a substantial tax hike if approved.
Hallam’s contract with the Hellam Township Police Department expires Dec. 31. The borough currently pays $244,076 a year for police services. In July, Hellam Township offered a new contract that would top off at $404,189 after three years.
“Boroughs are landlocked, and therefore the only revenue stream change would be to increase taxes, therein lies the debate,” said Hallam Borough Councilwoman Melody Stine. “How much are we willing to increase taxes on our residents to keep the local police service?”
For her part, Stine says she would support the tax hike — which officials have said could reach 42% by 2025 — if it’s required to maintain police service.
However, Stine has been in the minority.
In August, Hallam struck down the township’s proposal by a 4-3 vote.
Hellam Township responded with a proposed five-year deal, but with the same 66% increase in price. The borough countered in September with a five-year contract with a 22% increase, ending at $296,900 in the fifth year, according to Hallam Borough Councilwoman Samantha Fullam.
At a meeting on Sept. 9, Councilman Michael Dupler labeled Hellam Township’s offer an “insult,” reported Lancasteronline.com. Councilman Harry “Chip” Smith criticized the potential tax increase that would be required to afford the township's new rates for police service.
The deadlock has led residents throughout the borough, including Mayor Glenn Wascovich, to plant signs in their yards reading "save our police" and "no state police."
Should negotiations fail, police coverage in the borough would fall to state police.
The four borough council members who oppose the cost increase "feel it may be necessary to go to state police coverage due to costs," Fullam said.
But proponents of maintaining the borough's existing police coverage, regardless of the cost, say public sentiment is on their side.
"I have heard an outpouring of support for the Hellam Township Police Department," Fullam said. "Most people I have spoken to would much rather pay the approximately $50 more per person in taxes if it means keeping HTPD."
Negations are ongoing, and officials hope they could wrap up with a deal by November, in time for the 2020 budget.
"There are many residents, myself included, that have the signs in our yard to let it be known that we wholeheartedly prefer keeping the local township police," Stine said. "The local police are also engaged in our community in a way that the state police would not be."
Mayor Wascovich said he has not spoken to a single resident not in favor of the 55% increase.
"I enjoy the fact that my husband and I get to have the safety of our home protected by a police department that we know and respect," Wascovich said. "The Hellam police department has been a wonderful asset to our community."
Fullam said she encourages residents to come out to Hallam's next borough council meeting, when further negotiations over the police contract will be discussed.
The meeting will be at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14, at the borough office, 250 W. Beaver St.
"The Hellam Township Police Department is incredibly community oriented and provides nothing but exceptional service to our borough," Fullam said. "They attend all community events and provide support at the school crosswalks every single day. We would not have any of that with PSP."
— Reach Tina Locurto at email@example.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.