CLEARFIELD – Members of Clearfield Borough Council, the Lawrence Township Supervisors, members of both municipalities’ police forces, firefighters and the public gathered to hear a member of the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services discuss police department consolidation.
Ron Stern discussed the process of how municipalities go about consolidating their police forces. Normally Stern is called in to discuss the process, then the municipalities send letters of intent. Both the borough and township have already sent those letters.
Stern said that the letters have been reviewed and the studies have been approved. He said that the next step will be for a peer consultant to come in.
Once a consultant is obtained, another meeting between the borough and township will be held to introduce the consultant. Then the municipalities will be asked to sign Articles of Agreement. The consultant will gather data about both municipalities and their police forces. The consultant will interview officials, the District Attorney’s Office, the police chiefs and others.
The consultant will then complete a review, which will be studied by the Governor’s Center. Once the review is published, it will be determined whether the consolidation is a feasible program.
A number of issues will be looked at, such as the manpower needs of the area, the demographic and a proposed budget.
“We’re not going to give you the Cadillac, but we’re not going to give you the Volkswagon either,” said Stern.
Stern added that at least three different funding proposals would be presented by his office. A conclusion of the study will also be given.
Stern also added that it’s the Governor’s Center’s goal that no police office lose their job or wages from a consolidation. He said that the center takes the best of both labor agreements and put them together.
Once the Governor’s Center submits their findings, the municipalities have to form a study group. It is up to that group to tweak the findings and come up with a plan that works for both of them.
“If you decide to go forward, the Governor’s Center will be behind you,” said Stern. “I’m not going to let you just flounder out here alone.”
Stern pointed out that there is a hurdle that some municipalities cannot overcome when attempting to consolidate their police forces.
“I’ll be very vocal about this,” warned Stern. “If a regional department is going to fail, it’s going to fail because of politics.
“You’ve got to have a good working relationship.”
Stern also commented that the initial agreement between the municipalities should be at least three years long. He said that it takes at least that long for the plan to really begin to work and see the benefits from it.
Bill Lawhead, chairman of the Lawrence Township Supervisors, asked if there were any other sticking points.
“Keep in mind,” answered Stern. “Both municipalities need to keep their chiefs and officers involved.
Stern said that he would be willing to meet with each department’s labor unions individually to discuss consolidation and how it could affect them.
Jim Leitzinger, chairman of Clearfield Borough Council, asked if it would possible to get the consolidation done by Jan. 1, 2009. Stern said it was possible, but that the municipalities’ study group would need to work hard to help make it happen.
One woman in the crowd asked if the police department consolidation would be something that voter’s would have to decide. Stern said that in his opinion, it was not.
“Should it be put on a ballot? No,” said Stern. “That’s the job of elected officials.”
Stern said that each county’s rules regarding referenda were different.
Another resident asked if the Lawrence Township Supervisors would be willing to hold meetings to get the public’s input. The supervisors said that they would be willing to do that.
Stern also added that a commission of three would represent the joint police department. He recommended one member of council or the Mayor of Clearfield Borough, a Lawrence Township Supervisor, and a third member, possibly from the District Attorney’s Office or a member of the public at-large.
The issue of the possible consolidation of the township’s and borough’s fire departments will be discussed at a later date, according to Leitzinger. Another member of the Governor’s Center will be on hand to help answer questions specific to that issue.
After the informational meeting, the chief’s of both police departments offered comments on the prospect of consolidation.
“It’s a great idea if it’s done correctly,” commented Lawrence Township Police Chief Jeff Fink.
Clearfield Borough Police Chief Jeff Rhone added that the regionalization could save both municipalities money.
“I’m still in favor of regionalization,” said Rhone.