There is little question the Hallam Borough Council would prefer to continue to contract for police coverage from neighboring Hellam Township.
But after receiving an offer from the township to renew the contract for what amounts to a 65% compounded rate increase over five years, there is considerable question whether the borough can afford to renew its contract.
Under the terms of the current contract, which expires in December, the borough pays the township $244,000 annually for police coverage. The township’s proposal would increase that rate by 20% in the first year, 3% in years two and three, 4% in year four and 25% in the final year. That would mean in 2024 the borough would be paying $403,947.
“They sent us a number that was an insult,” council member Michael Dupler said during discussions about the contract at the Sept. 9 council meeting.
While there was no support for accepting the proposed terms, all seven council members and Mayor Glenn Wascovich voiced support for keeping the township police if more affordable terms can be negotiated. At the same time, though, they are keeping open the option of switching to state police coverage.
Among the concerns discussed were worries about potentially slower response times by state police. Officials said they are also concerned about losing some of the services provided by municipal police, such as assisting with codes enforcement and attending local events.
“The state police are incredible, but I don’t think it is fair for anyone to expect the same level of coverage as we get from the Hellam Township Police Department,” council President William Fitzpatrick said.
“How do we afford this? Not only for 2024, but for 2040,” council member Harry “Chip” Smith said.
To generate enough revenue to cover the township’s proposal, Hallam Borough would need to increase property taxes by 1.5 mills, or about 42%, over the five years of the contract. That would amount to a $168 increase for the owner of a home assessed at the borough average of $112,000.
Council voted to submit a counter offer to the township. The counter, which was proposed by council member Cindy Knox, offers to increase the current fee by 5% in year one, 3% in years two and three, 4% in year four and 5% in the fifth year of the deal. Under that proposal, the borough's cost would rise to $296,900 in year five.
A motion to submit the counter offer was approved by a 5-2 vote, with Dupler and Smith casting the no votes. Both expressed a preference to pursue an arrangement allowing the borough to purchase a set number of annual hours of police coverage from the township.
The borough faces a November deadline for any final decision in order to be able to finalize its 2020 budget and tax rates.