2009-02-12 / Front Page

Boro Council Finalizes Police Issues

Sells cruiser to county, PSP take over coverage

McConnellsburg Borough Council discussed several issues relating to the December 31, 2008, disbandment of its police department during Wednesday evening's meeting.

Borough secretary Jack Fields responded to several questions from council members regarding 2009 costs for disbanding the department.

Fields estimated the 2009 budget cost for the binding arbitration award at $71,012. This cost includes paid sick leave for both officers at approximately $26,800 each. It also includes one week vacation for Sgt. Doug Thomas at $742. Medical insurance costs for 2009 are estimated at $10,800 for one officer and $6,000 for the other. Health insurance costs will continue for three years, according to the award.

In a related matter, Fulton County Sheriff Keith Stains met with council and, pursuant to a discussion held at last month's council meeting, Stains presented an offer of $5,850 from the county commissioners to purchase the 2001 police cruiser. The vehicle has approximately 70,000 miles on it. The offer from the commissioners includes the removal of the VASCAR speed control system and the two-way radio. The JNET computer system will remain in the vehicle as it is county property.

Calling it a "fair offer," council voted on a Pat Frazier/Lee Rager motion to accept the county's offer.

Council also said that the former officers' weapons are now being held by the Fulton County sheriff until council meets with its solicitor to decide what it needs to do to sell them. Council will also sell the VASCAR system. The weapons include two .357 handguns, a 12-gauge shotgun and a semiautomatic rifle.

On Wednesday evening, council also adopted the necessary resolution to cash in police life insurance policies and deposit the cash-in values to the police pension fund. It also adopted an ordinance regarding the administration of the police pension fund in accordance with the binding arbitration award requirements.

Council also reminds borough residents they should now call 9-1-1 for police emergencies. Anyone needing to contact the borough office for issues not related to police coverage should now call 717-485-3690.

Council voted last year to disband its nearly 80-year-old police department, citing economic reasons. It is not unique in its move as a total of 65 Pennsylvania municipalities have done the same, relying on the Pennsylvania State Police for coverage. The disbandment of the departments is seen to be more of a statement on tough economic times rather than any desire to abolish police presence in small communities.

According to Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) spokesperto son Cpl. Linette Quinn, a total of 14 municipal police departments have been disbanded in 2008 and more than 60 since 2002. Most of those had larger departments and population bases than Mc- Connellsburg.

Because there is no law requiring municipalities and boroughs to have their own police departments, many faced with small and shrinking tax bases have been forced to make the move to balance their budgets. Once the municipal forces have been disbanded, the state police then provide coverage to the areas at no cost to the municipality. Although legislative proposals to require financial participation are, from time to time, introduced, there has been no serious effort to change the current system.

Last year when the council voted against renewing the Mc- Connellsburg Police Association's contract, members noted that state police were providing part-time coverage to the borough more than 50 percent of the time. The borough's twoman force provided no coverage after 11:00 p.m. and often not on weekends. Currently state police across the state provide fulltime coverage to more than 1,300 communities or nearly twothirds of the state's municipalities.

According to Quinn, "The state police have gladly agreed to respond to those areas which no longer have local coverage." She did ask for patience from callers because the troopers are responsible for the entire county and not just one area of it. She said cases are assigned on a priority basis so that a call to investigate a smashed mailbox would not take priority over a call where someone may be endangered. "We may not be able to respond as quickly on some things as may be desired, but we do have a priority system and we just ask for understanding."

Quinn said the PSP have not noted any major problems with their increased workloads. She said that the extra work can cause staffing changes and that complements of troopers at the state's 81 stations are looked at after an analysis of the number of incidents is made by the PSP Research and Development office.

After council made the decision to disband the department last year, the local PSP station commander met with council to discuss its needs.

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