The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

June 24, 2013

Windber, Paint considering ‘Plan B’

WINDBER — If Windber and Paint area leaders had their choice, they’d wait for the results of a state study later this summer to help spell out the future of police coverage in their area.

But with that study still ongoing, the current police force covering the five-community territory on shaky fiscal ground and two of its contracts up for renewal, Windber Borough and Paint Township are instead looking at backup plans both hope to avoid.

“We’re all thinking about our options – Plan B,” Paint Township Supervisor Joseph Huff said Monday. “We all have to be prepared.”

“We’ve only got six months to be ready for 2014,” added Windber Borough Manager Fred Oliveros.

For Windber, that planning will start with a workshop at 7 tonight.

Oliveros said council is likely to consider two options – each of them likely to cost the borough more for continued around-the-clock police coverage next year.

“We could continue receiving coverage from Paint Township or we could go and start up our own department again,” he said. “The second option would likely be costly up front. It’s going to mean finding space for that department, and likely, rent, and equipment costs.

“It’s a lot to take on – a lot to digest,” he added.

Tonight’s meeting is meant for council to begin considering both options – and to work toward developing more realistic costs for each, Oliveros said.

Huff and Paint Township Supervisor Dave Blough said last week that Paint Township is doing its own homework.

Paint Township has three options, Huff said.

It can continue providing coverage as it already does to the five-municipality area, with the expiring Windber and Scalp Level contracts possibly increased if renewed.

The township also could discontinue police contracts and eventually shift back into a township-only force, Huff added. The board is trying to determine what that would cost the township.

“Or we can scrap the department and go with state police coverage,” Huff said.

How the township’s department fares financially this year could be a big factor. So far, the department appears to be on track budget-wise, Huff said, but the township is sharing the numbers with Barnes & Saly, its auditing firm, for its opinion.

Paint leaders also hope to get estimates on how the force will likely finish the year, he added.

“There are a lot of questions to answer in a short amount of time,” Huff said.

Township officials, like many on Windber’s council, have described the formation of an independent regional force as the ideal solution.

State Department of Community and Economic Development officials are studying the idea, using local community and crime data to determine startup costs.

Paint Township expects to meet with DCED officials July 10 for an update. The study got underway in April and staff from the department handling the work suggested it is typically a four-month process.

Under that timeline, the report would be available sometime in August.

“We’re all getting nervous,” Huff told residents last week. “We know we can’t wait until that study is finished (to start looking at options).

Huff said the township is hopeful they’ll have new information to share with fellow municipalities after the July 10 meeting.

A workshop with communities the township police force covers will likely be scheduled for sometime after that date, he added.

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