Southwestern, Southern police open merger talks

Southwestern Regional Police Department in Heidelberg Township, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Board members for Southwestern Regional Police and Southern Regional Police are in preliminary talks to potentially merge the two entities. 

The talks come amid turmoil with Southwestern as North Codorus Township plans to leave by year's end and one year after Southern's own problems, when New Freedom almost abandoned the department.

“No matter what happens officially with North Codorus, merging together would ultimately be something we should all be thinking about,” Southwestern police board chairman Matt Bollinger said.

The Southwestern police board unanimously voted Wednesday to direct two of its members, Spring Grove Mayor Beverly Hilt and Dan Schmidt of Heidelberg Township, to pursue talks with Southern Regional Police.

Board Member Matt Bollinger speaks during the Southwestern Regional Police Department's monthly board meeting at the station in Heidelberg Township, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“I think it would probably be worthwhile just to find out what they’re thinking," Schmidt said during the meeting.

Last year, New Freedom voted to leave Southern Regional Police by the end of 2018. New Freedom residents pushed back, and the New Freedom board reversed its decision.

The Southern Regional Police department also covers Glen Rock, Shrewsbury and Stewartstown. Southwestern Regional covers Heidelberg Township, North Codorus Township, Manheim Township and Spring Grove.

In October, North Codorus Township officials, citing rising costs among other things, voted to leave the department by the end of 2019. The township pays about $1 million for police service, roughly half of the department's yearly budget.

Larry O'Brien, a New Freedom councilman who serves on the Southern Regional police board, said he presented the idea in May of merging the two departments.

He noted that, as seen in New Freedom's case, residents want to keep their local police, and that was being seen with Southwestern in North Codorus Township as well.

The best way to keep policing affordable, he said, is to get more municipalities on board with the regional departments. 

“It’s our hope, if all goes well, we could be looking at a merger," O'Brien said. "But again, we are very early in discussions."

Previous discussions about merging the departments stalled.  

New Freedom Borough Councilman Larry O'Brien "comes clean" about the Council's decision to leave the Southern Regional Police Commission during a public council meeting, Monday, March 12, 2018. John A. Pavoncello

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“Maybe (merging) would bring our costs down even further, and it may attract other municipalities to join in because we can do it better, cheaper," Bollinger said.

It's unclear what hurdles might complicate a merger, he said.  Additionally, the two organizations have to see what they can provide one another.

“If neither organization can bring anything to the table that can help the other, then it’s a red light," he said.

Southern Regional Police Chief James Boddington said that those involved with the negotiations must identify if existing police coverage is adequate and if a merger makes sense.

"Certainly anything's possible," he said.

Looking at Southern Regional Police, Bollinger said that department has a similar size and similar contract as Southwestern.

Southwestern Regional Police board solicitor Walter Tilley said the board might have to take legal action if no headway is made regarding North Codorus Township's separation agreement.

"I would really like to avoid that," Tilley said.

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

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He sent a draft separation agreement to North Codorus' solicitor for feedback but never received any, Tilly said. The draft has North Codorus paying roughly $1 million to leave the department

Rodney Shearer, a North Codorus Township supervisor on the police board, said the township board has not discussed the separation agreement and was waiting on information on a memorandum of understanding with Southwestern officers.

"I assure you, you'll get a response before the next meeting," Shearer said.

Longtime Southwestern police board member Larry Miller, a Manheim Township supervisor, resigned from the police board Wednesday.

“Life’s too short and I’m getting too old to lay awake all night worrying about how we’re going to do this,” he said. “It’s time for me to move on. Fourteen years is long enough.”

During Wednesday's meeting, the board discussed that memorandum of understanding, which would allow the department to hire part-time officers for a year.

If North Codorus stays, the board could then build the department up. If the township leaves, it gives the board time to adjust, he said.

North Codorus Township's board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 18, at the township building at 1986 Stoverstown Road.

The township received a proposal for service from Northern York County Regional Police for three years of service at $744,000. Under that contract, the township would receive 170 hours of police service.

The township currently receives about 250 hours.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.