The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 12, 2013

Northumberland officials split over 5th full-time officer or part-timers

By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item

LEWISBURG — NORTHUMBERLAND — There remains a divergence of opinion among Northumberland borough officials about whether adding a fifth police officer is necessary to provide around-the-clock coverage — even though the council already has approved a proposed budget that would fund multiple part-time officers.

A last vote on the 2014 budget likely will be taken on Tuesday, the final regularly scheduled meeting of the year.

Councilman Greg Carl said: “On the record, I have a problem with not having 24-hour coverage. In all reality, the expense associated with having police on 24 hours a day isn’t enormous from an individual taxpayer perspective. The average cost per taxpayer is somewhere between $3 and $4 a week for round-the-clock police coverage. With the recent events and statistics of crime in our area, I felt it necessary to post this because I personally don’t want to see our citizens (myself included) be in a situation where they need a police officer and one isn’t around. I don’t want to be known as the person not wanting to fund police services at the expense of our citizens’ protection. To me, there’s no reason for not having 24-hour police coverage.”

Ironically, records of a 2006 budget meeting for calendar year 2007 shows that money for a sixth officer was approved by the council as part of a $1.2 million budget.

Why that position was never filled “is something I can’t exactly answer,” Carl said.

But taxes were set in place to cover those costs, he added.

The mayor at the time was Gretchen Brosius, who died in November.

Councilman Adam Klock said, “There were extensive discussions regarding a belief that the borough would be without 24-hour police coverage. What the issue boiled down to were two differences of opinion on how 24-hour coverage could be managed.”

Greg Carl, Chief Butch Kriner and Mayor Len Zboray felt adding the fifth full-time officer would be necessary in 2014.

“Myself and others felt that four full-time officers were sufficient since $35,000 was already budgeted for part-time officers,” Klock said. “If utilized, part-time officers can sufficiently provide coverage when necessary, such as coverage for vacation and sick time or when officers are unavailable due to court appearances or training.”

Klock said staffing with part-time coverage as needed “is much more affordable and accomplishes the same goal without also providing a full-time officer with benefits, over $28,000 for health coverage alone. Although most police forces in the area utilize part-time officers, some extensively, our chief’s professional opinion was that this was an inadequate means of providing reliable coverage in our borough. I would agree on the premise that a part-time officer is not available when called upon when the need arises, which is a current concern of Chief Kriner’s.”

Kriner also was concerned about the borough’s past inability to find part-time help as none of the officers who previously were interviewed for full-time positions was interested in part-time work. Klock said advertising specifically for part-time officers probably would have made a difference.

Ultimately, Klock said, the council approved a proposed budget with an increase in the part-timers’ budget to $47,000 and also approved advertising for multiple part-time officers. The council increased the part-time budget in the hopes of offering attractive hourly wages to more experienced officers, who would require less training.

When the vote to approve the proposed budget was taken, only Carl dissented. “I voted no,” he said, “because the chief explained it is difficult to get Johnny-on-the-spot part-time officers. The mayor wants five, and a full-timer would cover the borough’s needs. The costs associated with training and outfitting four part-timers are not budgeted. It was my opinion the chief’s opinion was disregarded.”

A note on the borough’s website says the borough is accepting applications from people with Pennsylvania Act 120 training for part-time police officer positions. Applications may be picked up at the borough building, 175 Orange St., and must be returned by 5 p.m. Dec. 27.