By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG -- A seamless transition is the main goal as the merger of the Lewisburg borough and East Buffalo Township police departments marches forward to opening Feb. 6.
The new regional headquarters for the combined forces is beginning to take shape, said Lewisburg Chief Paul Yost, who will lead the new Buffalo Valley Regional Police.
General office phone lines may be down an hour or two for the transfer that day, "but the same numbers should work at the new building," he said. There is no change to the 911 system for emergencies.
A formal grand opening will take place later to commemorate what's considered a historic merger, said Judy Wagner, chairwoman of the Buffalo Valley Regional Police Commission and Lewisburg's mayor.
Henry Baylor, an East Buffalo Township supervisor, said the most the public may notice "is just a different patch on the shoulder, and the cars will look a little different. The quality of service should be seamless, and in fact, we'll provide better service."
Everyone is moving to the new station at 2009 W. Market St., Yost said, and 15 officers will comprise the force.
East Buffalo Officer Robert Hoffman retired in November but will continue as a contracted officer for the department's DARE drug-use deterrent program with the Lewisburg Area School District for the elementary and middle schools. "We're hoping we can add that officer (position) back on in 2012," Yost said, "but it depends on what we see as management once we get up and running."
Baylor said combining the police departments will allow officers to specialize in areas such as domestic and DARE programs.
A detective also will come into the fold, relieving police officers from doing their own investigations from start to finish, Baylor said.
It will take about a year or two to realign operations and look at cost factors and any savings realized, Yost said.
This is the third merger attempt of the two police departments over the last 30 years, Baylor said. "They tried maybe 20 and 10 years ago, and the two municipalities couldn't come to a cost-sharing formula," he said.
In a sense, this merger began in 2006 after a representative of the state Department of Community and Economic Development studied the area and the plan and decided it was a viable project to pursue.
The agency awarded a $43,700 grant for the new department's operational startup costs, Yost said.
Both municipalities had the idea for merging, Yost said, doing research, consulting with other places that had merged and studying the process applications.
The biggest advantage will be savings, Baylor said. "We won't have two chiefs, we won't need too many cars, we only need one administrative person. There will be fewer buildings to maintain," he said.
"You don't immediately realized the cost savings," he said, noting particularly that any "manpower cost savings won't be realized for a few years" as people retire.