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Regional police force plan in limbo

December 29, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- Nearly 10 years have passed since a state-sponsored study recommended a southern Franklin County regional police force, but little progress has been made to realize that plan.

"I wish we'd come to some final decision. Either we are or we aren't," Greencastle Mayor Robert Eberly said.

The regional department recommended by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development in February 1999 would have included the boroughs of Waynesboro and Greencastle, as well as Washington, Antrim and Quincy townships. A separate study released in May 2007, this one by the Pennsylvania Governor's Center for Legal Government Services, addressed specifics of implementation if neighboring Greencastle and Antrim Township were to form their own joint department.

The second study recommended 19 officers to cover 71 square miles at a first-year cost of $1.75 million. The study's authors talked about "proactive enforcement" with shorter wait times, regular patrols and enforcement of local ordinances.

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"There's still a committee working on it, but I don't think the committee has done anything on it in awhile," Eberly said. Neither the mayor nor the borough manager knew who served on that committee when asked Monday.

"There has been a little bit of discussion with Antrim Township, the Borough of Greencastle, Washington Township. The Borough of Waynesboro was involved," Antrim Township Supervisor Fred Young said.

Washington Township Supervisor Carroll Sturm attended a meeting this summer to learn more about the possibility of combining police forces.

"Nobody has gotten back to say, 'Let's talk some more about it,'" he said.

"I think we're kind of holding off at this juncture. I think the board's view is with the drop-off in revenue this year and the economy weak, we don't want to burden the taxpayers with that," Young said.

Pennsylvania State Police serve municipalities without their own police departments and assist ones that do have them as needed. Of the 22 municipalities in Franklin County, the only ones with local police departments are Shippensburg, Mercersburg, Greencastle, Chambersburg, Waynesboro and Washington Township.

For them, police services represent a big percentage of their budgets. In Washington Township, for example, the police department and officers' benefits are about $1.6 million of the $5.7 million in annual expenditures.

State Rep. John E. Pallone, D-Armstrong/Westmoreland, has drafted legislation to require large municipalities like Antrim Township to pay a per capita fee for state police services, but one local legislator said he hasn't seen much momentum on that. State Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland, said he and many of his fellow House members would "vehemently" oppose that effort.

"Whether they like it or not, the people in these municipalities are already paying for police protection. The key is these are still taxpayers who are already paying for state police," Kauffman said.

"I'm personally in favor of them paying that (fee) because we're paying taxes and not getting state police," Eberly said.

Kauffman called any potential surcharge ridiculous.

"We avail state police to any municipality that doesn't have its own" force, Kauffman said.

Young said the Antrim Township Supervisors would support a joint force with at least Greencastle borough involved, although the supervisors likely would not create their own department.

"We don't think it makes wise financial sense or logistical sense. I think there's an economies of scale," he said.

The second study, which recommended 19 officers, might have been too grandiose, according to Young.

"I think some of the recommendations in there are more than what we need," he said.

Young said the supervisors intended to set aside $200,000 a year toward future police service. While that money is available in reserve funds, it is not restricted and could be used for other expenditures.

Local police service "is definitely not something that's been forgotten about," he said.

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