Officials vote to consider ending contract with East Cocalico
JAMES MCGINNIS Review Correspondent
, Staff Writer
Despite concerns voiced by numerous residents over response times and quality of coverage, the Adamstown Borough Council voted Tuesday night to consider ending the town’s long-standing contract with the East Cocalico Township Police Department and join the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department.
The council announced in July that the borough would join Denver and West Cocalico Township in exploring the possibility of ending their contracts with East Cocalico and joining Northern Lancaster Regional Police due to concerns over rising costs associated with pensions and the possible construction of new buildings. Council president Randy Good also pointed out that the borough currently has no say in how East Cocalico Police Department is managed, but would be an equal member of a regional department.
The council voted 6 to 1 to notify Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department, which was founded in 2011 by Warwick, Clay and Penn townships, that they would make a decision on whether or not to join by Oct. 10. They also voted 5 to 2 to advertise the proposed adoption of this ordinance at the Oct. 1 council meeting.
Councilman Joe Dietrich cast dissenting votes on both proposals, and was joined by councilman David Gundrum on the intent to advertise.
The votes followed nearly two hours of discussion by the council and impassioned pleas to stay with the East Cocalico Police Department by several of the approximately 60 residents who attended the meeting, which was moved to the fire company after the borough’s meeting room became too crowded. Most of these attendees voiced concerns that the Northern Lancaster Regional Police would not be able to respond as quickly to emergencies as East Cocalico, whose headquarters are located just two miles west of the borough.
One of these residents, Gary DeCola, voiced concerns that switching police forces could compromise the borough’s security because of added response time.
"For the length of time I’ve lived in Adamstown, I’ve always felt comfortable knowing there are police officers who could respond in very rapid time," DeCola said. "Thirty seconds could make all the difference when it comes to saving a life."
Sandy Gideon, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, also commended the East Cocalico Police Department’s rapid response time to an incident where she found a man sleeping in the church one morning.
"I was scared to death," she said. "East Cocalico Police Department was there within minutes and everything was taken care of."
Other attendees questioned the character of the Northern Lancaster Regional Police Department’s personnel.
Kristen Nuneville alleged that the chief of the Northern Lancaster Regional department was accused of racial profiling, an issue that she said is personal because she has mixed-race children. Nuneville also drew applause when she said that the borough does not have to make mistakes because the East Cocalico Police Department has.
"East Cocalico screwed up, so are we going to follow suit and screw up ourselves?" she asked. "If a Columbine happens, you don’t have 15 minutes. I want the police department I have! I want to feel safe!"
Sandy Roth, a paramedic with the borough’s fire department, commended the way East Cocalico officers have assisted her on calls. "These guys will go above and beyond," she said. "They will carry my equipment and help in other ways not required of an officer."
Roth also contrasted the experience she has had working with East Cocalico Police Department with officers from Northern Lancaster Regional Police.
"An officer from Northern Regional, on the other hand, handed me my equipment and left, without saying anything to the patient or his family," added Roth. "That was all he did. You get what you pay for."
Council members defended their decision to consider changing police coverage. They noted that East Cocalico has refused to provide information on how the anticipated increased cost of coverage will impact the borough, and that Adamstown has not been allowed any say in the governance of the department.
Good said that the council has no complaints with East Cocalico’s officers.
"None whatsoever, Good said. "It is an issue with the management. We asked for information that is readily available to other municipalities. We still have not received this information."
"What is creating this issue is the senior management of East Cocalico Township," Good added. "We asked them for numbers, they have not provided them. Northern Lancaster, when asked for the same information, responded in days.
Good also added that residents in the municipalities who are members of Northern Lancaster Regional Police Department feel as positively about the coverage they receive as the attendees at the meeting felt about East Cocalico.
He also voiced concerns that the borough would be able to provide the services it currently does if East Cocalico’s coverage costs increase as steeply as some figures suggest. "What we have to do is consider all options and look at the quality of life in the community," Good said. "There are a lot of people in this community who are having trouble paying their bills and I am not making light of this."
"These are difficult times," he added. Your borough council is considering all these issues before making this decision. This has not been taken lightly."
Councilman David Gundrum held up a copy of the proposal that the borough has received from Northern Lancaster Regional Police. "This is a very good proposal and report," Gundrum said. "It is very informative. I have not yet received nearly as much information from East Cocalico Township. That is what I am waiting for so I can make a good, informed decision."
*Aug. 6 Adamstown Meeting Recap*
Adamstown has contracted coverage from neighboring East Cocalico Township since 1978. However, councilman Randy Good announced in July that he would like to consider other options for coverage before the current contract expires Oct. 30.
Good voiced concerns that the cost of contracting coverage from East Cocalico is projected to increase over the next several years due to pensions and the possibility that a new building may be constructed. He suggested that the borough consider joining the Northern Lancaster Regional Police, which is based in Stevens.
Good recommended at the Aug. 6 borough meeting that the council switch to Northern Lancaster Regional because it would give the town a greater say in how the force was managed. He noted that the three municipalities that founded the force in 2011 – Penn, Warwick and Clay townships – did so because regionalization is an effective way of sharing resources.
"This is a different way of policing," Good said. "These townships were proactive, not reactive. They did it because they see regionalization as the future in dealing with police costs. Is it as easy as dealing with one police force? No. However, if you look at Warwick and Clay townships, they have some of the lowest tax rates in the county."
Good also added that the borough needs to ensure that it continues to have the resources to fund all of its services.
"Are you going to continue to fund the library? Are you going to continue to fund the fire company?" Good asked. "We have seen the results in other municipalities when they decided to fund just one service. Quality of life starts to decline and people start moving out."
In addition to Northern Lancaster County Regional, borough officials noted that they were considering the possibility of getting coverage from Spring and Brecknock townships, along with the State Police.
Although most officials, including Mayor David Buckwalter, supported Good’s suggestion that the borough look to other police departments besides East Cocalico, the proposal drew mixed reaction from residents.
Resident Donna Zaun voiced concerns that officials were acting too hasty in their efforts to consider contracting with other departments.
"No studies have been done yet, but you are already looking at the other side," said Zaun. "We need to get all the facts before leaning one way or the other."
Resident Jeff Starr also voiced concerns that Northern Lancaster Regional Police may not be able to respond to calls as quickly as East Cocalico since they are based farther away. "Two point five miles doesn’t seem like a large distance, but God forbid if there is an event like a Newtown (Connecticut) at Adamstown Elementary School, where seconds could make a huge difference," Starr said.
Buckwalter responded by stating that the council has done extensive research on the issue and would not make a decision until they had all the facts.
"The borough has put a lot of time into this issue," said Buckwalter. "This is not a decision that is being made in haste."
Councilman David Matz also promised that he would be objective in considering the issue. "I am not stating my preferences one way or the other," said Matz. "We are just looking at our options."
The council also agreed to purchase signs for the town’s Community, Celebration and Lions’ parks stating new rules for recreation facilities. The costs of the four signs is not to exceed $1,000.
The council also agreed to continue developing Celebration Park over the next few years. The borough installed benches and planted new trees in the still largely undeveloped park earlier this year.
More COCALICO, page A10