New Freedom councilmen hopeful for Southern Regional Police resolution
While nothing official was decided during the Southern Regional Police Commission's May meeting, two New Freedom councilmen assured residents they are working to keep the department patrolling in the borough.
"The two of us are working to ... reinstate ourselves as full commission members," Larry O'Brien said Wednesday, May 2.
In January, New Freedom officials announced the borough would be leaving the regional police department by the end of 2018, leaving Glen Rock, Stewartstown and Shrewsbury as the member municipalities of the department.
In the ensuing months, council members have given different reasons for leaving, including the financial stability of the department and the desire for a larger police force. They also have expressed dissatisfaction with how the non-member communities are charged for police services.
Many residents have taken issue with the council's decision to leave and have since shown up at council meetings in droves to oppose the move.
Hopeful: O'Brien, who is a member of the police commission, the governing entity of the department, said last month he was certain he had the votes to sway the rest of the council into staying with the department. But that wasn't the case, and he couldn't make any promises Wednesday.
"We’re hopeful — that’s all I can tell you at this point,” he said.
Jeff Blum, vice president of New Freedom Borough Council and a member of the police commission, said all it would take for New Freedom to stay is for the council to vote to rescind its letter of intent to leave.
One resident asked if there was a date after which New Freedom would not be able to stay with the department.
Peter Ruth, the commission's solicitor, said there needs to be a separation agreement between the borough and the police department in place by July 1, but the borough council could reverse its decision and decide to stay with Southern Regional at any point until the end of the year.
All member municipalities agreed to stay until the end of 2018 to see how a new funding formula worked out.
The department has been using the new 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. The method allows municipalities to purchase service hours, which the chief would allocate appropriately.
Wrong proposal: During New Freedom's council meeting in April, the council approved a proposal to stay with Southern Regional Police, but as a contracted community instead of as a full member. The proposal was for a five-year commitment with the department, at the rate the borough currently pays.
However, as a contracted community, the borough would lose its seats on the commission. Each member municipality has two borough officials on the commission.
New Freedom Borough Council President Dennis Sarpen told a crowd of about 100 residents at April'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.
O'Brien agreed with one member in the audience that the motion that passed was "downright stupid" but said it was the only way to stop a motion to proceed into negotiations with another police department.
During the commission's continuation meeting on April 17, the proposal the commission received was for three years under a different payment plan. It was rejected by all members of the other municipalities.
It is not clear why the proposal was incorrect. Blum and O'Brien said after the meeting that they did not know why it did not match what the borough council voted on.
Special meeting: During the commission's continuation meeting, Shrewsbury Mayor Mike Sharkey asked New Freedom officials to consider holding a special meeting on the subject of the police department, so New Freedom could bring something back to the table for the commission's May meeting.
New Freedom did not hold a special meeting.
O'Brien said the decision was made because the borough already had to advertise that the next council meeting would be held at a different venue, and a special meeting would also have to be advertised, which could lead to confusion.
New Freedom Borough Council's next meeting is 7 p.m. Monday, May 14, at the New Freedom Community Center at 150 E. Main St.
The Southern Regional Police commission will meet 7 p.m. June 6 at the New Freedom Borough building.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.