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Borough may disband police department

A public meeting is sest for Sept. 25 to help the Borough Council decide whether to dissolve the two-person department.

A public meeting is sest for Sept. 25 to help the Borough Council decide whether to dissolve the two-person department.

September 18, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com.

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - Residents of this small Fulton County borough will be asked next week if they want to disband the borough's two-man police department or raise their taxes to keep it going.

A public meeting on the issue will be held Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the community room of the Fulton County Library at 227 N. First St.

The issue came to a head at a Sept. 4 Borough Council meeting when the members, following an executive session with their attorneys, voted to disband the police department by Dec. 31.

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Officials said the disagreement started when Police Chief Gary W. Long and Sgt. Douglas Thomas, in an attempt to improve their wages and working conditions earlier this year, petitioned the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board and organized themselves into a bargaining unit. They began negotiations with the borough council for pay hikes and improved benefits over a three-year contract, Long said.

Neither side will discuss details of the negotiations other than to say that offers and counteroffers have been made.

The two-man police union calls itself the McConnellsburg Police Association. It is represented by attorney Anthony C. Busillo II in Harrisburg, Pa.

McConnellsburg, with a population of less than 1,100, has had its own police force since the 1930s, Long said.

The department has one police cruiser.

Long said the town is covered six days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. by the two officers. The department also covers part of adjoining Todd Township under a contract in which the township supervisors pay the Borough of McConnellsburg $450 a month for the protection.

Troopers from the Pennsylvania State Police Barrack in McConnellsburg cover the borough when the local cops are off duty.

McConnellsburg Mayor Rudy Mihalick said a recent study by the borough showed that the state police cover the borough 57 percent of the time and the borough police 43 percent.

Councilman David Washabaugh said while the council believes there is a need for local police coverage, members doesn't think they can afford what the two officers want in the way of salary and benefits.

"We'd all like to see the police department stay, but we've been dealt the hand that we've got to play. We made a counteroffer, but we're too far apart," Washabaugh said.

"The police are demanding more than the town can stand," Mihalick said.

"The council doesn't think we can afford it. We'd have to raise taxes if we give them what they want. And it won't be the last increase. When the contract is up in three years they'll come back for more money," Mihalick said.

The police department costs the borough about $87,000 a year out of a total annual budget of $225,000, Washabaugh said.

Mihalick said if the department is disbanded, all of its equipment - cruiser, weapons, radios even the uniforms - will be sold. "It will all be gone," he said.

Long said he meets residents and businesses every day on his rounds who say they support the police department and don't want it disbanded.

"Without the presence of the police department, there will be no more deterrent," said Donald Peck, owner of the Peckwood Hotel and Restaurant downtown and D.L. Peck Enterprises.

"They'll be more burglaries and vandalism if there is no police protection," he said.

Peck was circulating a pro-police department petition downtown Tuesday that he said he will present to the Borough Council Sept. 25.

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