SOUTH PYMATUNING — Township supervisors remained mostly silent at the first public hearing to discuss the future of their community’s law enforcement.
Supervisors approved a motion in February to advertise for proposals to outsource the municipality’s police services.
Solicitor Peter Acker, who facilitated the meeting, began by reminding citizens that a decision has yet to be made regarding the future of the police department.
“Our decision was merely to solicit proposals,” he said. “Not a decision to go one way or another.”
South Pymatuning resident Laurel Alexander expressed her frustration at the silence from supervisors Rose Lyons, Bill Klumph and Michaelene Harris during the public hearing.
“I’m here to hear from my supervisors,” she said. “I don’t want a legal opinion on it. I want to hear their thinking and their responses.”
Alexander continued by saying that as a taxpayer, she hopes that the township will resolve to keep the current police department.
“(The South Pymatuning police) always come out when I call them, and they come in a short timeframe,” she said. “If there are any medical issues in the township, they come for those, too. We don’t have anybody else here, and there have been plenty of times when the police have helped us.”
Brian Reiter, a former South Pymatuning police officer and eight-year township resident, commended the board for entertaining the idea to solicit proposals.
“This is the best possible course of action within the financial realm of the township,” he said.
The South Pymatuning Police Department currently employs six officers — a sergeant, corporal, a full-time officer and three part-time officers, with a combined annual salary of $172,099.20. Acker noted that police department personnel and benefit costs are a huge component of the township’s overall budget.
Reiter cited the township’s empty police chief position and high turnover rate among part-time officers as further reason to outsource. The police chief position has been vacant since 2010, with Sgt. Richard Christoff currently overseeing operations.
“We need a full-time police chief to manage and control the budget,” he said. “If you look at employees who have come and went through the doors, it’s costing you a fortune. I think having a chief who encourages, disciplines and monitors his guys will see a benefit for all.”
Chairman Bill Klumph addressed the room near the end of the public hearing to remind citizens that the township has not decided to “get rid” of the police department.
“There may not be anyone out there who even wants us,” he said of the surrounding townships. “Let’s at least wait until we get some information.”
Aside from outsourcing police services, other options regarding the future of the township’s police department are to disband the department altogether and rely solely on state police coverage, negotiate a new contract with AFSCME, which represents the township police, or extend the existing contract, which expires at the end of 2018.
Acker said that he has been contacted by AFSCME, and that the parties hope to schedule a meeting for later in the week to discuss contract negotiations.
He added that if the township does decide on a contract with an outside entity, or to continue without local police, a public meeting will be held before a final decision is made.
Pymatuning Township, Hermitage and Sharpsville all share borders with South Pymatuning Township, and are the most likely candidates for police contract proposals, Acker said.
Proposals are due by the end of the month, but a final decision regarding the future of the police department is “far from done,” he said.
“When we know, the public will know,” he added.