Faced last year with a nearly 40% increase in police costs from Manheim Township, where they’d contracted service since 1975, East Petersburg started to look at other options.
Manheim Borough did not want them. East Hempfield Township offered a five-year contract but with a cost of $2.5 million the first year. State police would have had lagged response times and would not have enforced borough ordinances, council member Adam Gochnauer said.
Operating an independent force in the East Petersburg would have cost about $850,000, not including start-up costs, he said.
The 4,500-person borough found a viable option in the last force Gochnauer approached: Northern Lancaster County Regional Police.
“They actually wanted to be a part of this borough. They wanted to provide service here. The chief did a lot of homework on us, and knew we were a quiet town with good people,” Gochnauer said.
The force will begin patrolling in 2020 at a cost of $685,720 plus a start-up fee of $200,000 that might be offset by grants.
The seven-member council unanimously approved the contract Tuesday with about 20 residents in attendance.
One resident was Jimmy Swarr, a disabled veteran who’s lived in the borough for 21 years. He said he and other residents have some questions about patrol schedules and response times but are optimistic.
“I believe Northern Lancaster County Regional police will be a good change,” Swarr said.
What coverage will be like
The Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Commission formed in 2012 through the merger of police departments from Clay, Penn and Warwick townships. The force patrols 92 square miles.
The addition of East Petersburg means Northern Lancaster County Regional Police will join Ephrata police as the Lancaster County departments with the most municipalities in their coverage area. Ephrata Police Department patrols Ephrata and Adamstown boroughs, and Ephrata and West Cocalico townships.
The 1.2 square miles of East Petersburg is not a crime-ridden place. In 2018 Manheim Township police responded to an average of 13 crimes per month, Chief Tom Rudzinksi said in a presentation to the borough in January.
While the regional force’s headquarters is on Durlach Road in Clay Township — nearly a 30 minute drive from East Petersburg — the borough has been assured that it will be adequately covered, Gochnauer said.
“It (will be) just like what we have now, Gochnaeur said, with officers patrolling regularly but not one officer assigned to the borough.
Regional police Chief David Steffan did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but Gochnauer said he believed a few more officers might be hired.
East Petersburg will start out with contracted overage from the commission but could join in about two years, Gochnauer said.
Steady tax rate
After Manheim Township increased the police contract to $800,000 for 2019, East Petersburg raised taxes by more than 70 percent.
That tax raise will remain in 2020, Gochnauer said. If lowered for 2020, taxes might have to go up again in the next year or two, he said.
“I’d rather keep it even and keep residents happy and have them say, ‘OK, we got a pretty hefty tax increase this year, but we won’t have to worry about that going forward,” he said.
Eight-year resident Josh Roberts said he hopes the borough will end up saving money.
“I didn’t think we were getting our money’s worth,” said Roberts, who worked as a paramedic for about 20 years and now has his own instructional design business.
“I’m really happy with the change. I think that Northern Lancaster County Regional police are good people and very professional,” he said.
Good news for Manheim Township
In a phone interview with LNP, Gochnauer repeatedly said the issue wasn’t with the quality of the force or the police officers themselves.
“It was the Manheim Township commissioners that bluntly told us ... we should start looking elsewhere,” he said.
The change works out for well for the township, said Albert Kling, chair of the commissioners.
Were they to keep the contract going with East Petersburg, they might have needed to hire up to six more officers due to several officers retiring recently, he said.
With a smaller coverage area, that won’t be needed, essentially saving them money, Kling said.
“In fact, you could say that our costs could go down or are unimpacted,” Kling said. “I wish East Petersburg well, and I hope their new deal works out for them.”
LNP correspondent Amanda Schaedler contributed to this report.