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Pa. recommends regional police in Franklin Co.

February 11, 1999|By DON AINES

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Regional police forces for central and southern Franklin County are recommended in a state-sponsored study, but some local officials Wednesday questioned whether they can afford to take part.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development study estimated the cost at $3 million a year for a southern regional department covering Waynesboro, Greencastle and Washington, Antrim and Quincy townships.

A central force for Chambersburg and Hamilton, St. Thomas and Letterkenny townships would cost $2.6 million a year, according to Thomas K. Dubas, a consultant on the study and police chief of Blakely, Pa. Chambersburg's current police budget is about $2 million.

"My gut feeling is a regional police department for Franklin County isn't going to work," he told municipal officials at the Antrim Township Municipal Building. Because of the area and population, he said two departments make more sense.

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"What we're seeing here is municipalities with police departments that would have to increase their budgets and municipalities without police facing unrealistic budgets," said Antrim Township Administrator Ben Thomas Jr.

Like many of the county's 22 municipalities, Antrim relies on Pennsylvania State Police for service, but the report estimated a regional service would cost the township almost $1 million per year, an amount Thomas said would be difficult to raise through taxes.

Washington Township has a department with a budget of $739,000, according to Township Manager Michael Christopher. The study said its costs would rise to about $954,000 the first year.

Christopher, who supports the idea of regional police, said figures in the report for his township and Waynesboro were well below the actual costs of running those two police departments.

Greene Township Supervisor Dave Jamison said he was interviewed for the study, but his municipality, one of the biggest in the county with 14,000 residents, wasn't included in the report.

In the southern part of the county, Waynesboro, Greencastle and Washington Township have about 30 municipal officers total. Dubas said 47 are needed to also cover Antrim and Quincy townships. Chambersburg has 29 officers, but another 10 are be needed to cover Hamilton, St. Thomas and Letterkenny townships.

State Rep. Pat Fleagle said it would make more sense for some municipalities to contract for police services with those that have departments. Greene Township has an agreement with Chambersburg to provide police protection at Chambersburg Mall. Despite its name, the mall lies in the township.

"It would not be that big a wallop" for taxpayers, the 90th District Republican said.

The study comes as Gov. Tom Ridge is again proposing assessing some townships without police departments for the cost of state police coverage.

One version would assess townships with more than 5,000 people $70 per person for state police service. Dubas estimated the cost of regional service at about $76 per person a year.

Twice before, Ridge's proposal has failed. Fleagle said the latest version would have to be changed if it has any chance in the General Assembly.

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