by Jonathan Weaver
Ford City Borough Council might have enough money to cover growing expenses after all:
If it takes the Police Committee’s recommendation to disband the local police force.
In a letter dated July 14 to fellow council members, the borough Police Committee – made up of Vickie Schaub, Jerry Miklos and Scott Gaiser – made the recommendation after several meetings since the beginning of the year to discuss complaints and cost.
“…Given the Borough’s financial situation and the other demands on its revenues, the cost of operating the department is not sustainable,” Schaub read from the letter.
Three possible options that would provide savings were reviewed by committee members, including contracting with a neighboring municipality, hiring a non-union working police chef or eliminating part-time officers and shifts or disbanding the department altogether.
But, Monday, committee members recommended permenant disbandment of the borough police force and to shift all police services to the Pennsylvania State Police.
“This will provide a savings of more than a half-million dollars annually to fund the new water plant and a multitude of other much-needed investments in our deteriorated, antiquated, and dilapidated infrastructure,” Schaub read on.
A future Borough Council would not be prohibited from reinstating the local police force, and input from taxpayers will be received before a decision is made.
“What we’re looking at is all costs to the Borough going out with what we can actually afford – there’s going to be some tough decisions made by everybody,” Schaub said.
Council Vice-President Jerry Miklos agreed that all efforts should be made to get input on the matter from all taxpayers before a decision is made – such as through a mailed copy of the recommendation.
“We are very much trying to do our due-diligence on this issue and we want every citizen, every taxpayer of Ford City to have an opportunity to understand what’s happening in the Borough,” Miklos said.
Even though no vote was taken last night, Councilman Gene Banks stressed his disapproval.
“One of my pet peeves is public safety. I’m strictly against the recommendation because public safety and our citizen’s safety is very paramount to me,” Banks said. “Once you lift this department, the criminal will go rampant.
“If we do that, we might as well tell our citizens we don’t care.”
Banks, sworn in as a councilman in January 2012, grew up in Wilkinsburg – a community currently staffed by 22 police officers and two K-9 units.
Mayor Marc Mantini, who was absent from last night’s meeting, has also been a strong advocate of the local police force both at borough meetings and with other municipality leaders – such as those in Manor Township and West Kittanning – that are discussing whether it would be more-feasible to combine departments for a regional police force.
In June, more than 50 Fraternal Order of Police executive members came from Allegheny Valley Lodge #39, other local police departments and within the community after a rumor had been spread about the police department’s termination.
Fraternal Order of Allegheny Valley Lodge #39 President Steve Aulerich led support during that meeting, and said at the time that he would continue to support the long-standing department’s roots in the community.
Borough Council accepted the resignations of Officers Christopher Thiel and Edward Boop in April, but Police Sgt. John Atherton has asked for as many as six part-time officer replacements due to dwindling officers.
Sgt. Atherton did not return calls for comment after the committee’s recommendation was known last night.
According to the treasurer’s report, as of May 31, the Borough had an-approximate $275,000 adjusted balance.
Schaub described when a final decision by Council would be made as “to be determined.”
In other matters, Interim Borough Manager Eden Ratliff apologized to local residents as they endure efforts by Tresco Paving of Pittsburgh to re-pave portions of 5th Avenue (State Route 128) throughout town.
“I appreciate everyone’s cooperation with the flaggers and the trucks coming up-and-down 5th Avenue,” Ratliff said.
Borough employees have also been patching local roadways with cold patch.
The ad-hoc committee formed late last week to discuss how to repay the $581,000 federal grant that was used to refurbish the former Pittsburgh Plate Glass Foundry #2 will have their first meeting tonight within the Borough office along 4th Avenue. Schaub has also contacted U.S. Congressman Mike Kelly – who represents from Erie to Armstrong – for assistance.