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North Codorus Twp. unanimously votes to leave Southwestern Regional Police
North Codorus Township has notified the Southwestern Regional Police board that it intends to withdraw from the regional department in 2020.
But Police Chief Greg Bean said he's committed to changing the minds of township officials and is looking at ways to cut costs.
Southwestern's current coverage costs about $113 per resident annually for each of the four municipalities served by the department, according to the chief.
A copy of North Codorus Township's letter to Matthew Bollinger, chairman of Southwestern's police board, was provided to The York Dispatch. It is dated Tuesday, Oct. 9.
Signed by North Codorus Township manager Sharon Kerchner, it states that township supervisors voted unanimously at their regular meeting Monday night "to formalize the Township's intent to withdraw from participation in the Southwestern Regional Police Department," effective Jan. 1, 2020.
The letter also notes that the police department has 30 days to forward a proposed separation agreement to the township.
Reached Wednesday, Kerchner referred comment to the township's solicitor, Andrew Miller, who did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.
"It's been an ongoing situation for many years now," Kerchner said, and she invited residents to give their opinions.
Tuesday meeting: "We're inviting everyone to our open public meeting, which will be next Tuesday (Oct. 16) at 7 o'clock," she said.
Township supervisor Rodney Shearer told The York Dispatch that while he's received complaints from some residents over the years about the department, the real issue for supervisors is making sure they are spending taxpayers' money as responsibly as possible. Shearer serves as a member of Southwestern's police board.
North Codorus is one of four municipalities that are members of Southwestern Regional Police. The others are Spring Grove, Heidelberg Township and Manheim Township.
Asked what changes the department would have to undergo if North Codorus withdraws, including possible downsizing, Bean said he does not yet know.
But he acknowledged that, like other businesses, the loss of a partner "sends shock waves through any organization."
"We take this very seriously," the chief said. "After 16 years of what's been called good service, for them to suddenly say they want to disconnect? It could have a lot of harmful effects on the police department and the other three communities."
Cutting costs: "Our board president has tasked me with finding cost-cutting measures. So we've reached out to six municipalities, to try to sell some (police coverage) time," Bean said. "If we can sell some of that time for our current members to other municipalities, it lessens our members' costs."
He said that process is "aggressively" underway but that North Codorus acted "before we see the fruits of our labor."
According to Bean, Shearer told him North Codorus Township would wait until November before taking action to give the department time to put its cost-cutting plan into effect.
Shearer said he never told Bean that the township would wait. He said the idea of selling police coverage to nearby municipalities is one that the department has been trying for years with no luck.
According to Shearer, the issue — which goes back to 2002 — is that North Codorus Township is paying for 253 hours of police service per week, and it has been from the beginning.
"We only need about 160 hours, but we're paying for 253 because we can't get any (other municipalities) to come aboard," he said. "If Southwestern could get us down to 160 to 170 hours, we'd be glad to stay. But the only other way to do that is to cut personnel, and the chief doesn't want to do that."
North Codorus has the largest population of the department's four municipalities. It pays about 48 percent of the member contributions for an equal percentage of police service in return, officials have said.
Police board meeting: Bean, who earlier this week was in Florida for the annual meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said Sgt. Jamie Stalcup would read a letter written by Bean at Wednesday night's Southwestern police board meeting.
Bean's letter asks the township to reconsider and states that Southwestern Regional's costs system "is the least expensive in York County and nearly in all of the state of PA."
"North Codorus Township has purposely avoided any input from their 9,000 residents," the letter states. "And since that's exactly who's receiving the service and that's exactly who's paying the bill, that's wrong."
Shearer said he and other township officials aren't trying to stifle the public's right to weigh in on the matter. And he said he doesn't want to see police officers lose their jobs.
"This was not an easy thing for me to do," he said of his vote to leave Southwestern.
The numbers: North Codorus is paying $992,000 this year for police service, and that figure jumps to a little more than $1 million next year, according to Shearer.
The Northern York County Regional Police Department has not submitted an official bid but has provided the township with a ballpark estimate of about $700,000 for police service for 2019, Shearer said.
"It's not that North Codorus can't afford it," Shearer said of Southwestern's cost. But he said the township would be better served to go with a less-expensive department and spend the township's savings on local ambulance companies.
"The ambulance clubs are in poor financial shape right now," he said, adding he "would take every penny that we save" and give it to area ambulance companies.
"That's something we need terribly ... and we're not supporting them enough," Shearer said.
He said North Codorus Township officials have expressed concerns about the funding formula for many years at police board meetings, including every year at budget time.
"It's the same issue we've had all along. We've got to get more (municipalities) on board, but they're not interested," Shearer said.
Spring Grove staying: Spring Grove's borough council members have no issues with Southwestern Regional, according to borough manager Andrew Shaffer.
"They're happy with the service the department provides, and we don't plan on leaving," he said. "But we obviously have an immediate concern for the department" if North Codorus withdraws.
"We're kind of in a holding pattern at that point," he said. "We're going to do everything we can to educate our residents (to the possible change) and how that could possibly affect coverage for Spring Grove borough."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the first name of North Codorus Township supervisor Rodney Shearer.