Resident Bill Ogden said that this year, the Lawrence Township police started with eight officers, and currently there are seven officers. His asked about the supervisors’ timeline for filling the eighth position. Supervisor Chairman Glenn Johnston responded to Ogden’s question with the answer that a balance situation will be coming up.
“Once we get the results of that balance, we will then know how to structure our police department,” Johnston said. “I think it is a little premature being as we’re right on the edge of getting that answer from the public to make additional moves right this minute.”
Johnston added that with the upcoming election, they will know immediately after that whether the township will have the funds to do a major expansion.
“I think right now it is prudent for us to stay on hold with that manning situation,” Johnston said. “The police department is working extremely hard; they’re doing a very good job at covering and making sure there is either local coverage or state coverage.”
The Pennsylvania State Police are currently covering about five days per week.
Ogden said the January police discussion occurred when there were eight officers He said Solicitor James Naddeo suggested to ballot the issue at that time.
“[Former Police Chief Jeff] Fink’s retirement was subsequent to all that initiative, so I would have assumed that we would start with eight [officers]. And, if the referendum goes through, use that money to hire two more full-timers or four part-timers,” Ogden said. “That’s why I’m asking what the timetable to pick that eighth seat back up. From a funding standpoint, I would have guessed you’d tell me within the next budget year because we used up all the Fink money to pay Fink’s retirement or costs for him to leave and so on, which is reasonable.
“But I can tell you, that Alfred E. Newman has a better chance of being elected president than that ballot initiative has of going through. Because there’s no one that’s going to vote for a 33 percent tax increase on property taxes, in this economy, in this town.
“I would like to move forward, beyond that, I’d really like to encourage you to reestablish the next budget at the same level as the last budget and have eight officers as our starting point. But last year in December, Fink said he needed nine officers to put two men on every shift, so even eight is short.”
In January of 2007, at the local municipality impact presentation given before Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), then-Chairman William Lawhead said if the Hope Run landfill comes in its 10-man force will be severely over-extended, Ogden said.
Ogden then expressed his concern that because having only eight is short; his thought is the township should be moving toward a 10, 11 or 12-man force.
“In order to do that, the continuous answer has been lack of funding,” Ogden said. “I want to be the first on behalf of my neighbors and the other residents of the township to thank you guys for your stewardship, because you can’t make a double bed out of a single sheet.
“But now we have the windfall of the impact fees. That impact fee money was in your minutes in February when you signed the papers to be authorized to receive it. It was in the news in July when the Geographical Information Services (GIS) Department talked about the $940,000 – give or take – to come into the township, and it was brought up last supervisors meeting as to the planned usage of said funds. As near as I can tell from the news reports, we didn’t have any good answers what we may or may not do. We had two obstacles, we aren’t sure of the amount of money and we aren’t sure of the timing of the payment. According to the news reports, the money is coming in mid-December.”
Ogden said he contacted GIS and was given the data and computations, and the expected funding to be received in December will be between $850,000 and $992,000. Ogden asked the representative from GIS about next year’s amount and was given the figures of between $500,000 and $650,000, depending on the wells and the drop off on each year.
“That at the low end is $1.35 million dollars that can come in,” Ogden said. “HB1950 lists the usages of those funds, and the first of which is law enforcement.
“I would like to propose this to the board, let’s commit to a five-year plan to reconstitute this police force,” Ogden said. After presenting figures of cost for full-time and part-time officers, and multiplied it by five years, it gave Ogden the figure of $187,424. Ogden’s suggestion is to “block grant” with these funds, and work toward having 10 full-time officers and two part-time officers.
“If we expend the monies as I have described,” Ogden said, “that would be about $927,000. We might get it all in the first allocation, but we’ll for sure have it by the time with the allocation in 2013. In using low estimates from GIS, we’ll have over $400,000 left to do one of the other very good projects that the money is intended for. This provides the supervisors the opportunity not only to be good stewards, but also to provide the very best in service to the taxpayers of Lawrence Township. We’ve got to rebuild that police force.”
The question has always been how to maintain the police force, Marcellus money is the how, Ogden said.
Following the presentation of information by Ogden, Johnston began addressing Ogden’s concerns, comments and questions.
Johnston informed Ogden that he was the one that made the motion to ask the community if they wanted a tax increase to support the public services in all the emergency areas. Johnston questioned Ogden, how two more officers were going to help cover shifts when the seven officers currently cannot cover one shift.
“If we have seven people and we cannot man every shift signally, how is two more going to make 14?” Johnston asked. “Your math is not that good.”
Johnston said Ogden’s next point indicated that the supervisors didn’t give any good answers at the last meeting,
“The first thing I said is we borrow $400,000 every year for a tax anticipation loan,” Johnston said. “That could be a capital reserve that would eliminate the cost of the tax anticipation loan. In addition we would be gaining an interest on that $400,000, because it would be in the bank and not any other place.”
The other thing, Johnston said, is when the money is here, the supervisors will decide how to spend it best for this community.
Ogden said the money from the state is coming in ahead of schedule and in volumes larger than anticipated.
“That particular fund is developed by state law, do you understand that?” Johnston asked Ogden. “Do you know that state law can change by the day?” Johnston eluded to how easily the money can be taken if the state needs it somewhere else.
“That is not how we can establish the breading of this place,” Johnston said. “That’s not a very good business decision; it is not very good business management. The one thing we can absolutely do, is we can budget based on tax revenue. Tax revenue has been established year after year after year, and that’s how our budgets are established. They’re established based on real numbers, not on hopeful numbers.”
Johnston said once the money comes in, the board will make the best decisions for the community that they have the ability to make. The supervisors will take into consideration the police department and the roads that the township maintains. He reaffirmed that the supervisors cannot make decisions until they have the money.
“Everything has gone up in cost tremendously,” Johnston said. “We have to steward this for the community. It is our responsibility, and I take the responsibility very seriously. Working with the funds we have, I will not neglect the police department. I will not neglect the road department and I will not neglect any area of the township. I will treat them all as needed.”
Following the back and forth commentary between Johnston and Ogden, Ogden expressed an apology if he offended anyone on the board by his questions and comments. Johnston followed by providing information of all the cuts Lawrence Township has taken over the years. He then expressed an apology as well, as he said this has been going on for quite some time.
“Things aren’t getting easier here,” Johnston said. “They are getting tougher. We’re doing the best we can. When the money comes, we’ll make decisions.”
When questioned about the priorities of the funds, Johnston did not choose to speculate.
“We did discuss last month, it is in our minutes about establishing capital reserves so we can make this a long-term thing,” Supervisor Edward Brown said. “You know, we use a capital reserve in the manner of which we are obligated by law to do it. We can’t just up and do risky investments. But we can establish some capital reserves, and if we use it that way, we can use that as a funding tool for not just 15 years but maybe even further down the road.”