LEWISBURG — Threats of litigation turned into action as Lewisburg Borough filed a lawsuit against next-door neighbor East Buffalo Township alleging its reduction in funding to the Buffalo Valley Regional Police undermines the governing structure of the department.
Attorney Brian Gabriel of Campbell Durrant Beatty Palombo & Miller, Pittsburgh, filed the lawsuit in Union County Court on the borough’s behalf, alleging the township had no “factual or equitable basis” when it shrunk its municipal contribution by 2 percent in each of the past three years.
“Defendants are harming the financial condition of the Police Department by causing it to be unfunded by the outstanding 2% of expenses,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit includes as an exhibit the intergovernmental cooperation agreement the municipalities entered into on March 15, 2011, when the department was created. It also includes the funding formula used at that time to determine municipal contributions.
The Buffalo Valley Regional Police Commission is also named as a defendant. The commission is a five-member board with representatives appointed by both municipalities.
Court personnel entered the lawsuit into the civil docket on Monday.
East Buffalo Township and Lewisburg have been locked in a dispute over police funding since 2016. The township seeks to split the municipal contribution 50-50, citing higher crime rates in Lewisburg. The borough looks to maintain a 52-48 split that had existed when the department was created in 2011, saying a formula determines the shares and that the formula was agreed upon by both municipalities.
The township’s position is that the contract allows either party to request a desired amount of police protection units — essentially, a measurement of hours spent by department officers in either municipality — rather than a set total determined by the formula.
Township supervisors moved heading into 2017 to provide funds equivalent to 50-percent and have maintained such a rate in subsequent years. Lewisburg continued to fund the department at a rate equivalent to 48 percent. A 2-percent gap continues.
The borough maintains such action violates an intergovernmental cooperation agreement and is the basis of its lawsuit.
Lewisburg seeks a declaratory judgment.
It asks a judge to declare the township’s unilateral change to its contribution rate violates the existing contract terms. It seeks a return to a 52-48 percent and that the township reimburses the department an unspecified sum equal to the 2-percent shortfall, previously estimated at approximately $40,000 annually.
The borough also asks a judge to declare that the police commission exceeded its authority when it directed staff to adjust the billing percentage to 50-48 percent.
The lawsuit shows the department generated $564,954.89 in revenue from 2012 through 2018 in Lewisburg compared to $154,156.88 in East Buffalo Township. More hours were spent in the township during that time, the lawsuit claims: 50,619.66 hours compared to 44,654.76.
It states that the township represents 94 percent of the combined land mass and has a larger population, housing and business stock.
The lawsuit looks to establish a timeline concerning the dispute in its claim that East Buffalo Township had an “irrational objection” and its “refusal to pay its allocation of expenses.” One example it refers to is the township’s alleged demand that if it maintains a 52-48 percent funding split, that is should have a permanent 3-2 voting edge on the police commission.
The commission majority rotates every two years.
It also claims a proposal last November by the township to fund the operation at a 51-49 percent split, with the township maintaining the larger sum, was simply meant to leverage an “improper reduction” of its obligation.