The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

May 21, 2014

Farrell threatens to pull out of SW police force

SOUTHWEST MERCER COUNTY — Tempers were high at the Southwest Mercer County Police Commission meeting Tuesday after Farrell threatened to leave the department.

Farrell Councilman Eugene Pacsi presented the commissioners with an ultimatum: Either reduce Farrell’s police costs by $100,000 for 2015 or the city will create its own police department.

“Restructure this or else,” Pacsi threatened.

He explained that Farrell is contributing money that should be coming from a different community, namely accusing Shenango Township.

“It’s just fact that the city of Farrell cannot keep being $100,000 above and beyond,” Pacsi said.

However, Shenango Township Supervisor Carol Budanka argued that Shenango has been fulfilling its obligation to the department.

Budanka and Pacsi struggled to get their points across to each other, resulting in raised voices and accusations about the standing of Shenango’s original agreement with Southwest.

“That was the carrot to bring you in,” Pacsi said.

Chief Riley Smoot Jr. defended the contract, saying that the “only carrot” was a $5,000 savings for Shenango.

Pacsi said he believes that a formula needs to be applied to decide how much financial backing for the police force each community should supply. The formula he proposes includes factoring in the population, the number of calls and the number of road miles.

That was the formula used by Farrell City Manager Michael Ceci to determine the city’s potential savings should council create an independent force, Pacsi said.

“That’s not what we signed up for,” Budanka said, insisting that Shenango isn’t going to take on the additional $100,000 for Farrell.

While Smoot agreed that the numbers could be re-evaluated, he strongly disagreed with the timeline Pacsi presented.

Pacsi said Farrell needs a decision in time for council’s next meeting in June. If there’s no decision by then, Farrell will leave the department, Pacsi said.

“It is not going to happen,” Smoot said flatly. “You can threaten that all you want.”

That sort of decision would take months. He also pointed out that the June deadline wouldn’t even allow time for the other communities to meet and discuss it, making it an impossible request.

“To come in and think you’re going to get it now because you want it now, that’s asinine,” Smoot told Pacsi.

Even if there were a way to reallocate the financial responsibilities, it wouldn’t happen in one big move, according to commission Chairman Thomas Tulip.

“You’re not going to hold us hostage,” he said, making it clear that the commissioners wouldn’t be bullied or rushed into a decision.  

Tulip explained that one huge increase is not only impossible to expect other counties to adjust to, but also noted there’s just not an increasing tax base to bring in more revenue.

Pacsi still insisted on a quick turnaround, citing the last few years of lost potential savings for Farrell and the unfairness of the situation.

Tulip and Smoot insisted that the past can be reviewed, but can’t be changed. Whatever decisions are made need to be centered on the future of the force.

“I wish I could sit here and give you a magic answer,” Smoot said. “It doesn’t exist the way you want it.”

There were also concerns shouted among the commission that the numbers used for Pacsi’s argument aren’t correct and there won’t be much – if any – savings.

“If we’re going to play, let’s play,” Smoot said, addressing the arguing. “Even (Ceci’s) numbers from (Monday) had to be adjusted.”

There’s more to this debate than money, though. Retired detective Sgt. Ron Preston made sure to point that out from the audience.

“This constant fighting over money, you’re destroying your people,” Preston said.

The police are fed up with the annual worry about getting laid off, he said. “They’re afraid to buy a Christmas gift because they’re afraid they won’t have a job on January first.”

Preston said this issue has arisen every year for the last decade from Farrell.

“You can only ask other communities to do so much,” he said.

People have had enough, Preston said, and he thinks the constant fear would end with Farrell’s departure.

“That three-community police department would be very successful,” he said. In addition to Farrell and Shenango, the department covers West Middlesex and Wheatland.

The next step involves the different areas deciding what would be a reasonable formula and a fair timeline, and Farrell officials need to consider compromise, Smoot said.

The benefits of shared costs and united protection remain.

“We give you more than adequate protection,” Smoot said. “You need to seriously consider what’s most important to you.”

If Farrell isn’t satisfied with the options – or lack of them – council will be submitting its 60-day notice in June or July, Pacsi said.

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