McConnellsburg disbanding police force

December 30, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. -- The countdown on New Year's Eve affects not only the end of a calendar year, but also the end of local police service in the borough of McConnellsburg.

The two-person borough police force will cease to exist in 2009.

"It's disbanding at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31," said Carlton Anne Cook Walker, legal counsel for the McConnellsburg Borough Council.

All police calls originating in the borough will now be made to Pennsylvania State Police, who already handled night and weekend calls in McConnellsburg. The town with 1,100 residents is the largest community in Fulton County.

"When we have a call on the midnight shift, chances are that's where it is," state police Sgt. Jess Zorger said.

The state police, whose barrack is three miles north of town, will now serve the entire county full time.

"We have a finite number of personnel assigned to this station. Right now, (troopers) are going to have to absorb that workload increase," Zorger said, noting the barrack has 15 patrol officers and two criminal officers.


"We're going to have to work that much harder," he said.

Some residents are concerned about the change.

"The town will become criminal. It will get worse," said Wayne Strait, who owns the Lincoln Way Meat Market and worries about an increase in burglaries.

The borough council's decision to disband the municipal police department came in late August, after a public hearing on the matter, according to Walker. The ordinance passed 4-2 and was upheld by Mayor Jim Stenger, who retained the option to veto it, she said.

Voting in favor of disbanding the department were council members Mack Shaffer, Pat Frazier, Travis Bard and Rick Buterbaugh. Voting against it were Mike Chilcote and Lee Rager. Jim Smith was absent.

Douglas Ray, who works and lives in the borough, said he supports the council and trusts its decision.

"I hate to see them go, but if they had to go, they had to go," Ray said.

The decision was made due to finances and the lack of new development, which could create tax revenue. Without disbanding the police department, real estate taxes would have been raised again, according to Walker.

Instead, the property tax mill rate decreased from 7 mills to 5 mills for 2009.

"They're trying to keep the money," Ray said.

The police department represented about half of the borough budget due to salaries, benefits, uniforms, insurance and vehicle maintenance, Walker said.

The attorney said final arbitration is wrapping up with the McConnellsburg officers, who are unionized. They will receive severance and retirement packages, she said.

Sgt. Zorger, who described a "good working relationship" with McConnellsburg officers, said state police will not enforce local ordinances.

"We only enforce state law," he said.

"I personally disagree with them disbanding because the only police I see around here are local police. ... I was shocked," said Anita Mellott, who lives and works in the borough.

"I would see them all the time. They stopped in, and we were on a first-name basis," said John Shook, who owns Fulton Antiques.

Shook said he doesn't think disbanding the police department will accomplish much.

"Really and truly, we're not saving anything by the police department going," he said.

The public entrance to the McConnellsburg Police Department was locked Tuesday afternoon.

Pennsylvania State Police in Fulton County

o 717-485-3131 non-emergency line

o Always call 911 for emergencies.

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