The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 17, 2013

Regional police study moving forward

PAINT TOWNSHIP — Data the state needs to explore the possibility of an independent Windber area police force is on its way to Harrisburg for review, Paint Township’s police chief said Tuesday.

And Department of Community and Economic Development officials said a detailed number-crunching process will begin soon to see what it would take for a commission-run regional force to work in the area.

“One of the biggest things, and one of the most difficult things, is that we need to figure out a workable budget that would cover every single thing needed for this new department to work – gasoline costs, health care costs and even cleaning products for the office,” said Ron Stern, DCED’s government policy specialist.

“And for us to do that,” he added, “we need to get a true picture of what it costs to provide police protection to these communities now.”

It’s a process simplified somewhat by the fact that all but one community – Shade Township – is covered by one department: Paint Township, Skiles said.

But there’s still plenty to consider, he noted Tuesday at Paint Township’s monthly meeting.

One example: Paint Township already has eight patrol vehicles covering the area. But five of them have more than 100,000 miles on their odometers, Skiles said.

“They’re going to look at everything. The number of officers they recommend a force our size needs, equipment, the cost – all of that,” he said.

The study is being pushed because Paint Township has been struggling financially over the past year – and nearly was forced to shutter the department because of a cash shortage in 2012.

Over the past month, Benson, Central City, Paint, Scalp Level and Windber boroughs and Paint Township have been providing information on their own local budgets, population figures and other background the state office requested. Meanwhile, Paint Township and Shade police departments have compiled figures for review for the territories they cover, including road miles in each community, annual incidents and police roster sizes, Skiles added.

In the coming weeks, Stern’s office will assign a consultant to work on the project. That consultant will set up a meeting with the communities involved to help them understand the process as it gets underway, Stern said.

He noted the study will propose a budget and include suggestions on how the new organization should operate – both the commission that would run it and the number of staff recommended for the department itself.

But Stern noted the report is meant to serve as a “foundation” and that community leaders striving to create an independent police force also should consider what already works – and what doesn’t.

“They can take the report and shelve it, if they want to,” Stern added, noting that the report will suggest costs “but they aren’t set in stone.

“In the end, if they’re happy with the money they are putting in for police protection, that’s fine, too.”

Stern said the study typically takes four months to complete.

Skiles is hopeful findings will be issued by August.

“It’s moving forward,” Skiles said.

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