Supervisors in East Franklin Township at their public meeting last night continued to be non-committal to a plan that would either eliminate their township police department or contract services from other municipal police departments.
Supervisor Chairman Barry Peters said talks with Sergeant William Evans is set to continue next week to determine if the Township and Evans can come to an agreement that would keep the current department in operation.
“We have negotiations set up for Tuesday, February 5 between our solicitor and Bill’s attorney. That’s all I can tell you right now. That’s all I know.”
State Police Trooper Eric Simko was present in the meeting. While not trying to influence the decisions of the supervisors, he assured them the State Police are available to them.
“Essentially you have a 24 hour, 7-day, 365 days a year State Police force,” Simko said. “The assets that we bring to the table is not just what you see locally. It’s what we have at headquarters, it’s what we have in Harrisburg, it’s our labs, there is just so much years of experience that we bring to the table.”
During the last few months, Evans has been on medical leave and the State Police has been handling calls. After the meeting, Simko stated again his position as a neutral entity and that he was not trying to persuade the supervisors.
“I’m not saying anything to suggest or say that no one else is adequate enough. I’m just offering our services, and saying ‘Here we are!’ We’re in the township. I just want everyone to know we are here. If the township would opt to go with a police force, whether it would be full-time or otherwise, I wouldn’t have any issue with that. But I just want them to know what they have available from us, and I tried to make that clear here tonight.
In February 2018, Governor Tom Wolf proposed that municipalities that relied solely on the State Police be charged $25 per person fee. His reasoning was that nearly 1,700 municipalities receive their police protection essentially for free while everyone else has their property taxes pay for a local police force. In Kittanning Borough, residents pay for a full-time police force to the tune of over $800,000 annually. Ford City residents pay of $400,000. East Franklin’s budget for 40 hours of coverage per week is approximately $125,000.
The governor’s proposal fell on deaf ears in the General Assembly. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Stan Saylor (R-94) said there was one main reason.
“That kind of proposal will never get the votes simply because there are too many state reps and senators who come from areas where they don’t have local police.”
“I don’t know any township that I am aware of that are paying anything for State Police services,” Simko confirmed.
Businessman Todd Morris was in the audience and asked Simko about response times to a call.
“Our response times are fairly quick,” Simko said. “It depends on time of day, traffic. We don’t allow guys to sit around at the station. The station is centrally located within the county. Usually that’s the control zone. We assign guys zones and they know what zone they will be in that particular day. So when their shift starts, they are encouraged to go directly to be in their zone and remain in those zones unless they have a reason to leave. Usually we have enough guys that we can send another car into that zone to provide additional support. You will even see times when (troopers) are passing through from one location to another location – a trooper from Butler is coming over here for court – and he ends up taking an incident that otherwise a Kittanning trooper would have taken. Generally you get a good amount of coverage pretty quick.”
Simko said that the Kittanning barracks handles calls from Dayton to Elderton and the whole way down Route 28 to Etna. While he couldn’t divulge how many troopers are on duty per shift, he said the barracks is sufficiently staffed. In 2018, they averaged two arrests per day for drug or alcohol DUIs.
The next meeting of township supervisors is scheduled for February 28 at 6PM at the township building.