SOUTH PYMATUNING TOWNSHIP – More than a month after dissolving the township’s police department, supervisors say they are determined to repair the department’s reputation, starting with a plan to form a new, improved agency.

The supervisors suspended police operations Feb. 13 and turned over police protection to the state police.

Township officials expect private investigators to finish this week with an independent probe of the department’s past practices.

Supervisor Chuck Vranich said the current board of supervisors are being wrongly blamed for the police department’s condition.

“This board has tried to correct the problems of the past,” Vranich said. “This present board as it exists right now is being treated very, very unfairly.”

Rose Lyons has been a supervisor for five years; Vranich and William Klumph began their terms in 2018.

The first step to starting a new police department is to hire a police chief, supervisors said.

“We want to completely turn this around and change our image,” Vranich said.

But hiring a police chief is only the first step. The township has to hire and equip its officers.

South Pymatuning has a public safety budget of $342.940.44 for 2019.

Last year, Sharpsville borough officials submitted a three-year proposal to provide South Pymatuning with 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week coverage for the township. The bottom line for 2019 was $350,017, increasing each year to $405,409 for 2021. 

Borough officials said the township supervisors asked them for a revised contract request, which Sharpsville provided, but supervisors never responded to either proposal.

Sharpsville’s proposal provides for detailed line items -- such as the purchase of handguns, uniforms and two new vehicles -- that are missing from South Pymatuning’s public safety budget.

South Pymatuning’s budget is taken from last year’s numbers. It does not include weapons as a line item, because officers in the past were required to buy their own, Lyons said. 

“Normally the township has always allowed them to bring their own weapon or purchase them,” Lyons said. “We plan on changing that when we hire the chief and plan on purchasing the guns for them so they all have the same and so we know they are township-owned.”

South Pymatuning’s budget also does not include the purchase of two new vehicles, and the salary for police chief was left blank.

“Ammo, the township purchases, and the officers used to pay their portion.” Lyons said. “Again, we are trying to get things in order with supervisor involvement to correct the issues.”

Sharpsville’s proposal was rejected by South Pymatuning officials because “neighboring proposals were about $100,000 more than our budget,” Vranich said.

“My decision was not only based off price but just that I felt it was better for the taxpayers to keep our own department,” Lyons said.

Sharpsville officials said not only did township officials not respond to their proposal, but they found out about the dissolution of South Pymatuning’s police department at the same time the public did.

Sharpsville officials said the township has been like a sister municipality to them, particularly because both the township and the borough are part of Sharpsville Area School District.

“We depend on them and they depend on us,” Sharpsville Solicitor Joe Joseph said.

In the past, borough police responded to emergencies in South Pymatuning as mutual aid and backup to township officers.

With state police coverage in South Pymatuning, Sharpsville police can cross the borough line only if state police requests assistance through Mercer County 911 dispatch. Sharpsville police Chief Chris Hosa said that causes delays in the borough’s response time in the township.

Lyons said she is concerned with state police response times, but other municipalities in Pennsylvania and in Mercer County rely on troopers for police coverage. Supervisors are awaiting monthly reports from the police to make sure response times are up to par.

South Pymatuning supervisors said they had no choice but to disband the department earlier than expected because they were down to two patrolmen working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. 

Township Solicitor Charlie Steele has said the township dissolved the police department for several reasons -- four fully automatic rifles purchased by police officers were out of compliance with federal and state gun laws; theft of township property had occurred; and because the department was understaffed and working under dysfunctional, or unsafe, standard operating procedures.

Lyons said the check used to buy the automatic rifles was signed by two past supervisors and kept from her. She said it was never brought up at a township meeting and she never was advised of the purchases.

Supervisors say they are now more transparent and have shared information that has surfaced as a result of the investigation.

They said the township is more determined than ever to have its own police department in operation by June 1, especially because of its contract it has with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to patrol their part of Shenango River Lake.

“All that was missing in the past, that was never practiced here, that’s all going to be in the past,” Vranich said. “That is not how this new board and this new police department is going to be maintained. We are going by the book, and that’s not how it was maintained in the past.”

Follow Melissa Klaric on Twitter and Facebook @HeraldKlaric, email: mklaric@sharonherald.com

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