Northeastern Police board hopes number crunching will break impasse
The Northeastern Regional Police Board agreed Monday to reevaluate the funding formula that determines how much each member municipality must pay for services, in an effort to move budget discussions forward.
The board has been at an impasse since last fall, when the East Manchester Township representatives said they wouldn't approve a 2020 budget that had the township paying for more than 70% of the police services unless East Manchester took more control over the board.
"If you guys had just said, 'It's the formula that needs changed,' last October or November, we wouldn't have wasted this many months sitting here trying to figure out coverage," said Mount Wolf Mayor Maureen Starner.
East Manchester Township, Mount Wolf and Manchester borough are each charged a percentage of the annual operating costs for the regional department based on a weighted formula of the number of emergency calls, population, miles of roadway and taxable property in each municipality.
The department has been operating under the 2019 budget while the board continues negotiations.
Steven H. Gross Jr., one of the township's board members, has maintained for months that the boroughs are underpaying, based on a staff study showing what it would cost if the department were operating at optimal staffing levels with 15 officers, as opposed to the 12 officers at the department now.
The study was prepared by Police Chief Bryan Rizzo based on recommendations from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
"We do not have 15 officers," said Joshua Parish, a Mount Wolf representative. "So, we’ve never underpaid for this because we’ve never had this many officers."
The estimated $300,000 additional cost of hiring three more officers would likely even out among the three municipalities in the funding formula, Parish said.
Gross also said the township is paying for more of the service than it's using.
"We got charged for 77% of the time, but we generated 57% of the calls," he said, referring to a breakdown of police services in April. "That math doesn’t make sense."
But Starner pointed out that the funding formula includes more than just the number of calls in each municipality.
"I just want you to pay what you use," she said. "I don’t care what the percentage is. Whatever the formula says you guys use is what I expect you to pay."
To allow more time to discuss the options, the board voted Monday to hold an extra meeting the first Wednesday of each month, beginning in June, dedicated solely to resolving the budget and funding issues.
The board also authorized board chair Dave Naylor to reach out to the state Department of Community and Economic Development to inquire about the agency preparing an outside consultant's report on the situation.
The DCED doesn't charge municipalities for such reports, Naylor said.