Inching closer: Municipal leaders seem to be honing in on regional force

By on February 4, 2015

The tense climate that prevailed at the Jan. 27 Cocalico Regional Leaders meeting became more cooperative two days later on Jan. 29 when the Police Board, composed of one elected and one community representative per municipality, along with police and school district representatives, convened.

“The time between the two meetings allowed a cooling off period,” said Denver Borough Manager Mike Hession, contacted after the second meeting by phone. “It’s always good to get everything on the table. My impression from the Police Board meeting was that it’s time to talk and see what compromises we can come to.”

On Jan. 27, at the first of the two meetings when municipal leaders from Adamstown, Denver, East Cocalico, and West Cocalico held their quarterly regional leaders meeting at the West Cocalico building, the chronic tensions between East and West Cocalico townships erupted early on.

James J. Stoner, West Cocalico supervisor, opened discussion regarding his board’s reluctance to accept the unfunded pension balance as part of the new regional police force contract being written. The balance stands at approximately $2.3 million, which is the amount needed if every officer retired tomorrow.

East Cocalico Township officials wrote a letter, published in the Review, explaining that the unfunded balance, which took a big hit during the recession, changes from year to year, and has been improving. It could happen in years to come that the unfunded balance will cease to exist, they contend.

While none of the Cocalico municipalities are eager to take on such debt, consensus was that when a new entity is formed, such as the regional police contract now being written, one takes “the good with the bad,” as several municipal leaders have said over the last year and a half.

East Cocalico officials, who agreed to pay 100 percent of the MMO (minimum municipal obligation) payment toward pensions in 2015 and 75 percent in 2016 if the new regional force is up and running on Jan.1, 2016, believe that in some regards they’ve done more than their share to support working toward a regional force.

Randy Good, Adamstown Borough Council president, suggested that all liabilities the municipalities would be dealing with should be on the table so that costs for the next five years could be projected.

“Some of these costs are still not well-defined,” said Ralph Vedder, Adamstown citizen representative to the police advisory board.

“Citizens in each municipality represent a range of financial capabilities,” said Vedder. “Elected officials are working hard to achieve a balance that fairly represents all their constituents, both current and future. The cost factors are important since they will be directly reflected in local taxes.”

The other financial question mark, OPE (Other Post Employment) benefits, came up at the Jan. 29 regional police board meeting.

Adamstown Councilwoman Cindy Schweitzer and Vedder first suggested the police board engage a company to conduct a study on post-retirement benefits, specifically health care costs, which can rise dramatically from year to year.

“Some of these costs are still not well-defined,” said Vedder.

“Citizens in each municipality represent a range of financial capabilities,” said Vedder. “Elected officials are working hard to achieve a balance that fairly represents all their constituents, both current and future. The cost factors are important since they will be directly reflected in local taxes.”

Mark Hiester, East Cocalico Township manager, said in a phone call that Conrad Siegel is doing the study on these benefits and the company thought it would take about a month.

East Cocalico officials previously said that since they had all the data for the police department it made sense for them to coordinate the study. The other potential police board municipalities pressed for the agreement that East Cocalico make all results received known to all municipalities simultaneously.

Other topics covered at the police board meeting included approving incorporating a multi-year pay-back for any municipality which leaves the regional force, and therefore needs to pay back its proportional share of the unfunded police pension.

“Should municipalities who previously only purchased services and were not responsible for managing the services now assume shared responsibility for legacy costs?” said Vedder.

“Would that be fair to the constituents who will be paying the taxes?”

Denver officials, in looking at what would happen if a municipality withdraws, suggested that a five-year payback period be considered.

Regarding the underlying tensions between East and West Cocalico officials on several issues that keep re-appearing at meetings, Hiester said: “East and West will meet with each other. We’re trying to figure out how to do that, with whom, and whether in public or privately. We’re holding up progress with the issues between East and West.”

There is one sign matters are moving toward a resolution: Listed as one of the items on the draft agenda for the Thursday, Feb. 5, meeting of the West Cocalico supervisors a resolution to authorize entering into an inter-municipal agreement for law enforcement services. Other items include a timeline and the appointment of a representative to meet with East Cocalico officials to discuss liability issues.

Vedder believes representatives of all four municipalities are united in support of the East Cocalico police force.

“One thing appears to be universally agreed upon is that the officers and staff providing the police services are doing an excellent job,” he said. “We thank them for their efforts.”

The regional police board meets monthly on the fourth Thursday, with the next meeting Feb. 26 at East Cocalico.

Michele Walter Fry contributed to this article.


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