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Residents voice need for police to remain

September 26, 2002

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

Nearly 200 McConnellsburg-area residents gathered Wednesday night to discuss a Borough Council plan to disband the local two-man police department at the end of the year, and all who spoke favored keeping the department.

Several carried placards inside and outside the local library where the meeting was held proclaiming "Let Our Police Protect and Serve," and "Save Our Policemen." One sign read, "Give Rudy the boot Before Criminals Loot," in reference to Mayor Rudy Mihalick, a proponent of disbanding the police force.

The council surprised the community Sept. 4 when it passed a resolution calling for an ordinance to disband the 72-year-old police department by Dec. 31. The step came after the two officers joined a union to negotiate their first employment contract with the borough.

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Police Chief Gary W. Long and Sgt. Douglas Thomas each has served the department for more than 20 years.

Long earns nearly $27,000 a year and Thomas more than $25,000. The officers, in their contract talks with the council, were asking for a 26 percent pay hike plus increased benefits, said Thomas Finucane, a Chambersburg, Pa., attorney hired by the council to handle its negotiations with the union.

The negotiations are at an impasse and headed for arbitration.

Finucane said it costs the borough about $70,000 a year to run the police department.

Long and Thomas cover the town from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. five days a week and are on call at all other times.

Finucane said they cover the town 43 percent of the time. The other 57 percent is covered by state troopers at no cost.

Serious crime is not a problem in McConnellsburg, according to numbers provided by Finucane. He said in 2000 the two local officers investigated 13 criminal cases including one felony.

Last year, they handled 12 criminal cases. There have been seven so far this year.

Finucane said the parking meters will go if the department is disbanded.

Said Anthony C. Busillo of Harrisburg, Pa., who is representing the officers in the negotiations: "They decided that they needed a decent wage."

The council, in effect, told them to like what they have or be disbanded, he said.

"The council has already spent $7,000 to fight the union," he said.

Donald Peck, owner of three downtown businesses, presented the council with a petition signed by 66 McConnellsburg business owners who want the cops to stay.

"Their presence downtown alone deters crime," Peck said.

Two other residents presented petitions from their neighborhoods supporting the police.

One resident said the local force should be beefed up to four officers, not disbanded.

"People want police coverage here," Travis Kendall told the council. "No one here wants this department disbanded. You'd better recognize what you have gathered here tonight."

Several residents said they would accept an increase in their property tax if that's needed to keep the police department.

Mihalick said the council will vote on the police issue in November.

"If this police department is disbanded, McConnellsburg will become a lawless town," said one resident. "Who will want to move here then?"

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