East Franklin Township supervisors met last night in a public meeting and the topic of the police department was far from the agenda.
During the last several months, contract talks were to be held between lawyers for Chief William Evans and Township Solicitor Ty Heller, but that hasn’t happened.
“We have had two (negotiating) sessions that were cancelled by (Evans’) attorney,” said Township Secretary Debra Cornman during the meeting last night.
Currently Evans is working without a contract based on terms from the previous contract which expired December 31, 2018.
As first reported by the Kittanning Paper approximately six months ago, supervisors have explored the idea of disbanding the police department, which now has only one employee – Chief Evans – who works a standard 7AM-3PM work week Monday through Friday.
In September 2018, supervisors announced they had submitted information for a regional police department feasibility study that would consider the possibility of East Franklin contracting services of North Buffalo Police Department for coverage in the township. The information is being processed by the Pennsylvania Department of Economic Development and results are expected to be released in a report sometime this spring.
The feasibility study is non-binding, and East Franklin supervisors could decide to continue operation of their police department or disband it and allow the State Police to patrol the 31 square miles of the township.
In January, State Police Trooper Eric Simko assured supervisors they are ready to patrol the township as necessary.
“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.”
“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!’” Simko said. “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.”
Governor Tom Wolf renewed his desire to see municipalities charged a fee for those that relied solely on the State Police without a local department. 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. Wolf has tried in past years to get legislators to agree, but most are against the measure, since they are elected by constituents who would be taxed for State Police protection.
One local businessman who has been outspoken against use of the State Police instead of a local police department has been Todd Morris. He brought a report published by Pittsburgh television station WTAE that showed response time in Pittsburgh increased – meaning it took longer for State Police to respond to an incident compared to a local department when a local department was eliminated and State Police took over.
Supervisors are in a holding pattern at the moment, waiting for the feasibility study to come back from the State, and for Evans’ attorney to respond to requests to meet from the township solicitor.