The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

February 25, 2013

South Fork to participate in police regionalization study

SOUTH FORK — Borough Council decided it will participate in a study into regionalization of police forces in the area at its special Monday meeting.

Among other concerns that stem from a drought of solid figures and information about the proposed regional police force, council members agreed to permit the study only if it was at no cost to the borough. Just how much more they will need from taxpayers to support the proposed 24/7 law enforcement, however, is already weighing on their minds.

“I always base these things on my neighbors – can they afford this?” said newly appointed Mayor Don Hudson.

Hudson acknowledged that there will be no grant money put toward the consolidation process.

The plan would create the 34th regional police force in the state, serving Summerhill Township, South Fork Borough and Adams Township. Six years ago, this same project was examined for feasibility but ultimately shelved due to waning interest from many participating communities. Last week, at a meeting of the Forest Hills Regional Alliance, it was reopened.

“When it happened before, we were 100 percent behind it,” said Richard Vivian, council vice president. “And then, for some reason, we ended up being the only municipality (that was still interested).”

Aside from a general wariness, council members said they could foresee issues like salaries and union contracts gumming up the works. Both Adams and Summerhill townships have unionized police forces that would require a unanimous vote to abolish – provided that needs to happen to move forward. The newly formed regional force could, however, unionize again if they wish.

“I have questions like: How much per capita? How’s salary going to break down?” said Vivian. “The only fair way to do it is by population.”

And with the quiet town’s population hovering in the low thousands, council President Richard Frazer was aware the borough could be getting the worst end of the deal.

“We’re cutting our own throats when we say that,” he said. “Because our population is going down and this is not a rich town.”

Currently, South Fork residents pay $70 each in yearly taxes for the police they have – one full-time officer and one part-time officer.

Hudson said, before the resolution was passed to allow the study, that he feels residents will likely be paying “dearly” for 24/7 police service.

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