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September 4, 2013

Borough shops for coverage

Benson losing police protection when deal with Paint Twp. ends

BENSON — There’s an old police chief’s badge showcased on a shelf inside Benson’s borough office.

It’s a keepsake from a time long since passed when the tiny town fielded its own police force.

These days, Benson Borough Council is hoping police coverage won’t soon be a memory, too.

Weeks after learning Paint Township plans to end police protection contracts with them at year’s end, Benson’s council members indicated they will explore every option to keep a local police presence.

A town hall meeting might be one option, Council President Kevin Hollsopple said.

Fellow council members suggested the borough might need to raise taxes to find a community willing to add Benson to its patrol area.

“It might be worth having a meeting with the public. ... Are they willing to have their taxes raised, if it comes to it, to keep local coverage, or would they rather have state police in the area?” Hollsopple said.

The latter is a choice most on the board signaled they would like to avoid.

“State police are already stretched too thin. We’d never see them,” Councilman George Knapp said.

Knapp worries about drug-related crimes in the neighborhood. Without the regular sight of a police cruiser passing by from time to time, the problem would likely grow, he said.

Several nearby communities have police departments, but council members didn’t indicate they’ve reached out to any yet.

Council members said they will attend a meeting Sept. 23 to updade area communities now served by Paint Township about a regional police force study.

But staff from the state’s Center for Local Government Services, the group preparing findings about the cost to create an independent police department in the area, indicated in July

that only the first phase of the study will be ready this month.

Windber and Paint Township officials have said they don’t expect results of the entire study until next year – one reason both are crunching numbers for their own police forces.

Knapp noted Tuesday that Benson can’t afford inaction.

“We’ve gotta do something,” he said.

The borough now pays Paint Township $980 a month for service. Their contract ensures

24/7 response and occasional patrols but does not require an officer to be stationed in the borough.

“Paint’s done a great job,” Hollsopple said. “I wish we could keep what we have.”

Follow The Tribune-democrat’s David Hurst on Twitter@tddavidhurst.

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