The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Opinion

July 6, 2014

OUR VIEW: Dollar figures may not add up in police proposal

- — There's a saying in business: If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

We make this point after hearing that Shenango Township Supervisor Tom Hubert claims that the township can save money by pulling out of the Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Department.

Hubert put together a preliminary operating budget for the township that amounts to $507,678, slightly cheaper than what the current department fee would be for next year – $532,684.

However – and this is a pretty big however – there would also be a startup fee of $212,979.

So how is that saving money? The first-year expense would amount to $720,657.

Hubert says that the figures are “conservative.” If the term conservative means “the new plan will probably cost the township a lot more money,” we agree with that.

Hubert offers several plans for hiring police, both full-time and part-time. While we aren’t accountants, unless we are missing something, they don’t seem to include overtime costs to cover vacations for the employees.

On top of that, after the first year there will be rising costs for gasoline, insurance, health benefits, new vehicles and other expenses that will be probably total much higher than the 3-percent increase the regional department has requested this coming year.

One only has to look at the police budgets of other Mercer County communities to see if Hubert’s numbers hold water. The costs of belonging to the regional department seem pretty reasonable.

That’s also overlooking the fact that the state likes – make that really, really likes – consolidated efforts of communities. When it comes to applying for and receiving grants, state agencies seem to favor municipalities that cooperate with others.

A pullout by Shenango Township could really sour state relations.

And then there are the safety issues. In a smaller department, there could actually be only one patrolman on duty at times under Hubert’s one scenario. If that were the case and a major incident occurred, how could that be handled better than the current setup that has several officers working at one time?

Lives could be at stake.

The whole idea of breaking up the regional police department appears to be stemming from personality conflicts, rather than saving money, because saving money is probably a pipe dream.

It apparently started with Farrell officials claiming that Shenango Township wasn’t paying its fair share and then threatening to pull out. Although Farrell backed off on that stance, that kind of thinking must be contagious.

The matter wasn’t handled well by Farrell Manager Michael Ceci or Councilman Gene Pacsi at meetings of the regional police commission.

So in an apparent retaliation, Shenango officials decided they would advertise for a police chief and perhaps vote later to pull out of the joint venture. And they are hoping Wheatland and West Middlesex join them.

All sides need to take a deep breath and conduct a lot more civil discussion before anyone seriously considers pulling out. Withdrawing from the regional force could be a financial and safety disaster.

Unless Hubert signs a legal document that he will personally pay for any costs over his original plan, taxpayers in Shenango Township had better be wary of something that sounds too good to be true.

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