Northeastern Regional Police moves toward dissolution, preps for merger

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

The Northeastern Regional Police Board authorized its solicitor Monday to prepare a draft resolution to dissolve the department by the end of 2021 to make way for a merger with York Area Regional Police.

It was a major step toward consolidating the two departments after months of discussion and a year of uncertainty about Northeastern Regional's future.

In an interview Monday afternoon, Northeastern Regional Chief Bryan Rizzo said he was very pleased the three municipalities represented on the police board — East Manchester Township and Manchester and Mount Wolf boroughs — had come to a consensus about moving forward with York Area Regional, and that his employees have some assurance now about their job security.

"It’s been a rough year because we didn’t know what direction the police board was going to take," Rizzo said.

After the police board approves a draft resolution to dissolve Northeastern Regional at the end of 2021, each of the three municipalities' governing bodies will have to approve the agreement before the board takes a final vote to adopt it, police board Chair Dave Naylor said.

In the meantime, the police department will secure an evaluation of its assets, which Rizzo said will need to be divided among the three municipalities before the merger can take place.

Assets include the building where the station is based, the property on which the station sits and patrol vehicles.

Chief Bryan Rizzo gives his report to the  Northeastern Regional Police Board during their meeting, Monday, May 18, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Under the proposal from York Area Regional, the two departments would combine to create a new entity with a new name, which hasn't yet been announced, and all officers and staff would keep their jobs.

East Manchester Township would join York Township and Windsor Township as charter members, and Manchester and Mount Wolf boroughs would join Dallastown, Spring Grove, Jacobus and Yoe  as contracting municipalities that would buy services from the new department.

Mount Wolf Mayor Maureen "Mo" Starner asked if the boroughs would have a say in how the new department is created, since they won't be voting members of the governing board.

York Township Commissioner Albert Granholm, who attended the meeting to represent his township, said the boroughs will have ample opportunity to incorporate guidelines for their representation in the new charter.

More:'Out of whack': East Manchester Twp. blasts Northeastern Regional Police funding formula

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Costs and benefits: The costs of police services across the state are rising, and regional departments are not immune to the pressure.

Last year, The York Dispatch analyzed York County's then-five regional departments' budgets over a 10-year period and found they all increased spending over time, due in large part to employee benefits and wages.

One of those departments, Southwestern Regional Police, disbanded at the end of 2019 after its greatest financial contributor, North Codorus Township, voted to leave the department and instead contract with Northern York County Regional Police.

Heidelberg Township and Manheim Township followed suit and also contracted with Northern Regional, while Spring Grove borough, the only remaining municipality served by Southwestern, opted to go with York Area Regional.

In the bidding war for Northeastern Regional, both York Area Regional and Northern Regional submitted proposals.

One of the best ways for any department to offset rising costs is to grow, either by bringing in new municipalities or merging with another department to make a larger department, Rizzo said, which is likely what motivates regional departments to compete over expanded coverage area.

"Once you have more municipalities funding it, then your costs go down," he said, referring to the costs of running the department, which would be spread out over more municipalities and individual taxpayers following a merger.

After Southwestern Regional dissolved, York Area Regional's coverage area grew from five to six municipalities, and Northern Regional's coverage area grew from eight to 11 municipalities.

When Northern Regional submitted its first proposal earlier this year to Northeastern's board, it was similar to what the department has offered individual municipalities to contract for services, said Northern Regional Police Chief Dave Lash.

Northeastern Regional Police Board Chairman Dave Naylor discusses options to ensure member townships and boroughs are paying a fair share of the department's budget, Monday, May 18, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

But when the Northeastern Regional board said they preferred the full merger option offered by York Area Regional, Lash prepared a new proposal with many of the same benefits and guarantees as York Area Regional.

Northeastern Regional's municipalities still preferred York Area Regional.

In recent months, Northeastern Regional board members have said that Northern Regional is in the "business" of policing, rather than having a community focus.

Lash said Northern Regional is professional and business-like in how it handles its finances, and the department holds its officers and employees to a high standard.

If a regional police department is operated like a well-run business, then the municipalities, which are the customers, will receive a level of service that meets their needs and matches what they've paid for, Lash said.

"If that makes us business-like, then yes, I would agree, we’re business-like," he said.

York Area Regional Police Chief Tim Damon declined comment this early in the merger process.

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