The financially struggling township that has provided police coverage for much of Somerset County’s northern tier likely will patrol only its own borders next year.
Just a month after Paint Township’s largest police partner, Windber, announced it will bring back its own force next year, the township moved Tuesday to notify remaining communities it covers it is terminating contracts with Central City and Benson, effective Jan. 1.
With Paint Borough and Scalp Level already making it clear they are looking to Windber for coverage – and revenue to support the 16-officer force expected to dwindle because the three are moving on – it’s a step the township had to take, Paint Township Supervisor Joseph Huff Jr. said.
“This isn’t something we want to do, but at this point, we don’t have much of a choice,” Huff said, saying the township “has to get back on our feet here.”
“We can’t risk trying to keep going on and running into another (financial) logjam,” he said.
Huff and Supervisor Dave Blough told residents the only certainty is that police coverage won’t be the same next year.
The board still is crunching numbers, Huff added, and it’s not yet known whether the township will have a full “24/7” or part-time force in 2014.
“Right now, the goal is to keep some kind of force we can afford,” he said.
Even a small force won’t come cheap, Huff noted.
Township resident Joe Cominsky said he didn’t want to imagine Paint Township without its own local force on the streets.
“The way things are today, it’s unbelievable,” Cominsky said, pointing to recent crimes in the region.
Huff agreed. Moments after a resident asked it the township might fold their police force entirely, he called it an option the township hopes to avoid.
“To me, we can’t just go on without something the way crime is right now,” Huff said.
The township has covered its borders along with Paint, Central City, Benson and Scalp Level boroughs for several years now.
Chief Rick Skiles said it has been tough to see a years-in-the-making dream of a regional force take a step back the last few weeks, “but I understand the steps these communities have made.”
“Hopefully, this is just temporary,” he said, referring to the prospect of an independent, commission-run force in the region.
A state DCED agency is studying the possibility and developing cost estimates to make it work. But local leaders, at a time Paint has been working to climb from years of deficit spending, have said they could not wait any longer for results with their 2014 budget planning already getting underway.
Windber voted in July to re-form its own force. Its annual $364,000 contribution to Paint Township is nearly 45 percent of the department’s overall budget, guaranteeing a full-time presence in that borough and full-time jobs on the payroll.
Paint Borough, meanwhile, already sent the township a letter saying it will not be seeking township coverage next year, while Scalp Level has publicly indicated the same.
Huff said the township is directing Solicitor Dennis Stofko to notify Central City and Benson boroughs of its decision, adding that it will re-explore the idea of contracting again with neighbors if its financial outlook improves.
“This was decided tonight ... so we’re going to let them know as quickly as we can,” he added, saying the township didn’t want to delay the matter.
The township will continue to cover all of the communities through December.