CLEARFIELD – On Tuesday, the Lawrence Township Municipal Building had a full house. Members of the public, police department and the Lawrence Township Supervisors discussed the police department and how they might bolster the PD’s numbers.
Ultimately, it may come down the voters in Lawrence Township.
In recent months it’s been reported that the township’s 2012 budget did not include filling two vacated positions within the police department. It’s also been reported that the police department was ordered not to fill every shift if it meant officers incurring overtime.
Last month, a similar gathering took place at the township municipal building. At their reorganizational meeting earlier this month, the supervisors invited those who attended the that meeting to come back for some answers to their questions.
Prior to opening the meeting to the public, Supervisor Chairman Glenn Johnston presented those gathered with some facts and figures. Johnston said the township has a fixed income of $2.3 million/year. The major source of revenue comes from real estate taxes. The tax base consists of $56,686,164. He stated that 18 mills, where the township’s taxing rate is currently at, should generate $1,020,350.95 in tax revenues. The actual figure collected runs between about 90-92 percent. The remainder comes from other sources.
As a second-class township, Lawrence Township is allowed to impose a 14 mill tax rate for the general fund. Five additional mills can be assessed to the fund; the township received that approval in 2002. The township can also impose taxes for special purposes. A one-half mill tax for emergency services can be imposed by the township. The township can also assess more than a one-half mill tax, provided the question is submitted to voters. Of that, the township can only use half of that increase for salaries and benefits.
Johnston said the police department’s budget for 2012 represents a little more than 40 percent of the total revenues expected by the township in that tax year. He also pointed out that the recent arbitration award requires the township to increase police salaries by 3 percent/year starting with back-pay for 2011, a year in which the officers were not under contract. He stated due to the township not replacing two officers, the township can absorb the 2011 cost. However, the police department will be placed over budget for 2012.
“The supervisors have worked with the police department to find a way to increase staff without increased taxes,” said Johnston. “We (the supervisors) believe that both parties understand that this is not possible.”
Johnston said their solicitor, James Naddeo, recommends the township place the proposed millage increase on the ballot. He said it will take a 3 mill increase for each additional full-time officer (a total of 6 mills or a 33 percent increase in property taxes). He said that two part-timers can be added with a 2 mill increase, or an 11 percent increase in property taxes.
Members of the public expressed concern over the state of the police department and what it might mean to the township. Others touched on current problems and the lack of coverage, including Mike Boal, manager at Novey Recycling. He stated that state police response time could close to an hour, depending on where the trooper is located.
John Jacob stated that one of the bigger things the township wants is to see more people and jobs. He indicated something that helps that happen is protection.
Hill Street resident George Ensinger, who heads his neighborhood’s Neighborhood Watch, said there’s only so much they can do.
Fred Redden, former supervisor and township resident, pointed out that the township is on the brink of having a transient workforce coming in with the Marcellus Shale. He also commended the police force for the job they do.
Arnold “Boo” Swales said he feels a minimum of three officers per shift is sufficient.
“I want bodies out there,” said Swales. He pointed to the number of officers the borough has. “No reason we can’t have it.”
The supervisors were also asked where else they could cut costs to help make up for the funding the police department.
Bill Lawhead, vice-chairman, said they’ve cut costs as well. He stated that fuel, oil and materials costs have increased.
“Over the past 5-6 years, raw materials costs have quadrupled,” said Supervisor Ed Brown.
“We’re getting bombarded with cost increases,” said Johnston. “Budgets haven’t changed with the allotted pot of money. Costs are up everywhere.”
Helen Taylor of Novey’s Recycling, urged local businesses to donate materials to help the township cut costs. She stated that her company recently donated a car part to the police department.
Township resident Tim Janocko asked if the supervisors looked for grants to help with funding. Brown said, “All the time.” He stated the officers have worked diligently to find funding opportunities.
Officer Mike Morris proposed using the one remaining mill that the township is not taxing toward hiring a police officer. It was indicated by the supervisors that that one mill is like an “emergency mill.” It was also indicated that the money would not make up for wage or other increases incurred by that officer in the future.
“Everyone agrees, we need the police department,” said Naddeo. “There is no bone of contention with maintaining the police department. It’s how we do it with a stagnant budget and inflation. I’ve recommended, put it on the ballot.”
After the meeting, the supervisors indicated that’s the direction they’re leaning.