Time has come for serious study of police mergers
Mount Carmel Borough Councilmen Clem Plisiewicz has succinctly expressed what leaders and citizens in Shamokin - and no doubt many other communities - are feeling when he said this about the negotiations for a new police contract:
"We truly believe our police are doing an excellent job. They deserve raises and benefits. We're not at war with our police, but where does the money come from in order to give them anything?"
More and more, and especially locally as 2013 rolls into 2014, a "24/7" local police force has become an increasingly difficult financial burden to bear. With escalating pension and health care costs added to salaries and other expenses, police budgets in some cases represent more than half of the overall budget for local municipalities.
With that, it's time to give serious consideration to merging local departments.
- - -
In Shamokin, where council has cut two members of the 11-member full-time staff, Chief Ed Griffiths will be hard-pressed to keep 24/7 coverage with just nine officers, himself included. With a minimum of two officers needed per shift - for coverage and safety - and, by theory, three shifts per day, that's 42 shifts per week that need covered with nine men. Do the math and it's evident the full-timers will be spread thin, even on a good week, let alone when vacations and holidays come into play.
While the police force is untouched for 2014 in Coal Township, and the presumption is the township is in better overall financial shape, it's worth noting that taxes are set to climb there, too, when the commissioners approve a final 2014 budget this afternoon. It may behoove township taxpayers to seek out a merger, too, and not view this as simply a bailout for its down-and-out city neighbor.
Thinking on a larger scale, maybe a local police merger could involve even more municipalities. Could Shamokin or Coal Township or Mount Carmel, Mount Carmel Township or Ralpho Township lessen their own financial burden while providing coverage to a municipality that currently doesn't have its own police force?
- - -
There is a perfect storm at work here: Populations are shrinking, which results in less tax revenue; at the same time, the conditions are ripe for crime and drugs, which increases the need for police.
While the politics will be difficult, the bottom line is this: people want 24/7 local police coverage in our larger municipalities, but they simply can't afford the current system. Mergers could provide the solution.