'The people have spoken': New Freedom reverses, votes to stay with Southern Regional

New Freedom will be staying with Southern Regional Police after all.

During the Monday, May 14, borough council meeting, Vice President Jeff Blum motioned to rescind New Freedom's letter of withdrawal and stay with the department for five more years.

About 100 people attended New Freedom's borough council meeting Monday, May 14. The council voted to stay with Southern Regional Police. Christopher Dornblaser photo.

The vote passed six to one, which prompted a standing ovation from the roughly 100 people in attendance. 

The borough had voted to withdraw from the regional police department in January, which would have left Stewartstown, Shrewsbury and Glen Rock as the three member municipalities. Winterstown and Railroad are contracted municipalities, and Southern York County School District and Southeastern York County School District also pay for police services from the department.

Since then, there have been months of back and forth between council members, the community and members of the Southern Regional Police Commission. The police commission is made up of officials from each municipality and it the police department.

"The people have spoken," Chief Jim Boddington said after the decision was made.

Chief James Boddington talks with residents before the New Freedom Borough Council meeting, Monday, March 12, 2018. John A. Pavoncello

Changing course: One of the complaints from New Freedom officials was that the commission wasn't listening to them.

But Blum told the audience it appears the commission is changing for the better. He said he had "extensive" conversations with police commission members and also saw a working draft of an agreement for a school resource officer with Southern York County School District.

"I believe they're moving in the right direction," he said.

After the meeting, Blum, an alternate member of the police commission, said he and fellow councilman and commission member Larry O'Brien worked to convince the council to change its tune.

Blum said he met with each council member and pointed out to them the police commission implemented a new payment system after New Freedom officials complained they were paying too much. That went into effect in July.

"I'm just glad to put it behind us," he said.

Doug Brent, a New Freedom resident who put together the "Keep Southern Regional Police in New Freedom" Facebook page, said he was glad to see the borough stay with Southern Regional Police.

Brent and several other residents attended council and commission meetings regularly for months leading up to Monday's decision.

"It was great to see the public show up and get results," he said.

More:New Freedom councilmen hopeful for Southern Regional Police resolution

More:New Freedom approves 'downright stupid' proposal to contract police services

More:Wrong proposal halts progress with New Freedom, Southern Regional PD

More:New Freedom reconsiders leaving Southern Regional Police

Lone vote: Bruce Merrill, a New Freedom councilman and member of the police commission, was the only person to vote against staying with the department.

After the meeting, he said believes his concerns regarding the financial stability and the size of the department are still valid. Over the past few months, Merrill encouraged the commission to pursue merging with other departments. Last month he also tried to get New Freedom to enter negotiations with Southwestern Regional Police, but the motion failed.

"I think what you're going to see is the police costs are going to rise," he said.

Merrill said he didn't think a municipality would leave the department this year, but in a few years that might be the case.

"I think you're going to see people having to pull out because they can't afford it," he said.

New Freedom Borough Councilman Bruce Merrill, right, introduces a motion to leave the Southern Regional Police Commission and contract services with Southern Regional Police Department during the council meeting, Monday, March 12, 2018. John A. Pavoncello

Where New Freedom stands: As part of Blum's motion Monday, the borough has now committed to the department for five years.

Shrewsbury also has committed to five years, and Glen Rock has committed to three years with the department.

During an earlier police commission meeting, when it appeared New Freedom was dropping out, Stewartstown rescinded its intent to stay five years.

Stewartstown Mayor Robert Herzberger said during the April commission meeting that the borough council was concerned the police department would not be able to sustain itself with only three municipalities. At the time, he said the borough council will likely decide its next step once New Freedom makes its decision.

The police commission will meet again on June 6.

Funding: The department has been using a new funding 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. That method allows municipalities to purchase service hours, which the chief allocates appropriately.

All of the full-member municipalities agreed to remain with the department through the end of 2018 to see how the new formula worked out. 

In January, New Freedom officials announced the borough would leave the regional police department by the end of 2018.

Currently, the contracted communities and school districts are not under the PPU formula, according to Chief Boddington. He said the idea is to have the four member municipalities paying the department under the formula before eventually converting the contracted communities and school districts to it.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser