ALICE HUMMER Review Correspondent
, Staff Writer [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="188" caption="East Cocalico manager Mark Heister listens to Cocalico residents during Mondayâ??s Cocalico Regional Municipal leaders meeting. (Photo by Stan Hall) "]
Resident interest in the 2014 police coverage remains high as nearly 100 people filled Steven's Fire Company's truck bay area for a meeting of Cocalico Regional Municipal leaders.
East Cocalico supervisors included a proposal in the agenda packets, which was accepted by municipal representatives from West Cocalico Township, Adamstown and Denver to form a police advisory board as soon as possible to provide input on the police budget and functions.
The new police board would function until municipalities decide whether to continue to use East Cocalico with a new agreement, to join Northern Lancaster Regional Police Force, or to form a regional police department using the East Cocalico Police. Residents and the municipalities are pleased with the East Cocalico Police department and praise them for excellent patrol coverage, response time and solving cases.
Composition of the new police board will include two representatives from each municipality, one representative from the police officer's association and a citizen. Each municipal representative is to be appointed by the respective governing body. The police representative is to be appointed by the association. The citizen is to be appointed by the majority of the governing body members at an annual Cocalico leaders' meeting. Each appointment is for a two-year term. East Cocalico's proposal calls for election of a chairperson and vice-chairperson, who will serve for a period of one year. There is no mention of re-election for the officers and the position of secretary is optional.
Municipal leaders from the three municipalities, which contract with East Cocalico, stressed the importance of controlling costs.
"What type of power will this police board have?" asked Mike Hession, Denver Borough manager. "In our small municipality, if we project out police costs using the numbers we now have, we'd need to raise taxes each year, and they're not small increases. Not many municipalities need to do this. What if our representative to the board wanted to ramp down the coverage in Denver based on our finances? Could we do this, or, would it go to East Cocalico (supervisors) and you'd decide on this?"
Other municipalities agreed that many community services are stretched thin to make ends meet. Budgeting must address fire companies, ambulance associations, the library and community pools.
The most contentious financial issue is how to handle the approximately $2.3 million deficit in the police pension fund.
"I am not willing to accept that responsibility for my citizens," said Doug Mackley East Cocalico supervisor chairman. "We accrued this liability because we had to hire more police to police Denver and the other areas."
"The economic turn-down also contributed to this," said supervisor Alan Fry.
"Things are getting better for the pension fund," said East Cocalico manager Mark Hiester. "It went from 71 percent funded to 75 percent funded, the latest report indicated."
"This fund doesn't need paid back in one year," Liz Dorneman, East Cocalico's financial administrator reminded the group.
Attorney Larry Maier, stated succinctly what several other municipal officers were saying, "In effect, you're (East Cocalico) going back and rewriting the agreement for the last 25 years. You gave us a bill. We paid it. You've never supplied us any numbers; you've never shared a budget. So, whatever we do you are not going to take that demand off the table."
"This is like a landlord saying to a renter after 12 months that more money is owed because the landlord's expenses were higher than anticipated," Maier said.
"I think we should talk," said East Cocalico supervisor Noelle Fortna.
East Cocalico, like many other municipalities, did not raise taxes for several consecutive years. In addition, Terry Reber, Water Authority administrator, reminded supervisors at their April 17 meeting, that East Cocalico citizens will finance 25 percent of the $4.6 million bond passed for the water facility expansion. Reber acknowledged the project's value to citizens.
"If one of our wells goes out, we could have a problem," said Reber.
"We're aware that of the three municipalities contracting for police service, we're the biggest and the two boroughs are watching what we will do," said West Cocalico Township supervisor chairman Jacque Smith. "I must tell you that we are getting a lot of feedback from phone calls and people saying, 'Don't go back. Move on.'"
Residents listened attentively for over an hour prior to their turn on the agenda for citizen's comments. Overwhelmingly, comments urged municipal officers to discuss how to keep the East Cocalico Police force coverage.
"I have talked with two other people, MDJs, who have dealt with Regional." commented District magistrate, Nancy Hammill. "They (Regional) are reactive as opposed to proactive and revenue is down 10 percent. Part of that is due to less coverage."
"I've talked to two people who are covered by Regional and their coverage isn't what ours is. I am concerned about quality," said West Cocalico resident Freda Fasnacht.
"Fireman usually arrive at the scene after the police," added Stevens fire chief Chad Weaver. "The police do a lot of service before we get to a call. What they do is huge. It can be the difference between life and death."
"The grass is greener on the side till you stick your hand through that electric fence," commented April Westhafer, a Reinholds resident, who related a childhood story about being shocked by an electric fence.
"We came here tonight to get East Cocalico to agree to sit down and talk. We've accomplished that," said Mike Gensemer, Denver councilman.
East Cocalico has agreed to continue another year under the old police contract. What remains up in the air are exact costs.
Police officers' salaries are unknown, until an arbitrator's report is issued, hopefully by the end of August or first part of September. Officer's have worked with no contract since the old one expired on Dec. 31, 2012.
"We're close. Neither side asked for anything astronomical," commented Corporal Darrick Keppley. "There were certain things, like health care, that we did not agree upon and it went to arbitration."
More POLICE, page A10