Ephrata state police station may close Future of local barracks in question

By on April 11, 2012

By: MELINDA ELMER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

The Ephrata state police barracks, also known as Troop J, could be closing.

This law enforcement outpost has been operating at 21 Springhouse Road since 1999, and 26 people currently work at the facility (18 troopers, five supervisors and three civilian staff). Prior to that, state police had a facility on Trout Run Road and have maintained an Ephrata presence since 1980, possibly longer, according to a spokesman for Troop J.

Exactly how the potential shut-down would affect the current workforce and status of the Springhouse Road property remains to be seen. A lot may be determined by the next state budget.

"I have not been given any sort of time frame other than ‘the near future’," said Sgt. Erin Magee of Troop J during his visit to Elizabeth Township during their Monday night supervisors meeting. "It all comes down to money."

The state police were told to keep their budgets at a zero increase across the board for the next fiscal year. The largest budget item is salaries and benefits for the officers, whose contracts call for small yearly increases. But zero budget increases plus annual pay increases and the ever-increasing cost of insurance does not balance out.

"The Pennsylvania State Police are currently 400 troopers short across the state," Magee said. The Ephrata Barracks has four fewer troopers than last year.

The next class of 115 prospective state police troopers will enter the police academy in June for the 10-month training. There is currently no class in the academy.

"Without the money to put troopers through the academy and retain current troopers (downsizing will happen)," Magee explained. And, state police are currently in contract negotiations.

"One thousand (troopers) could retire yesterday," Magee said, meaning that they are eligible for retirement but have not yet taken that step. "If contract negotiations go sour, a lot of men and women will retire."

Troop J is on the chopping block because it effectively lost 40 percent of its work load since the beginning of the year. Those troopers had covered Rapho Township full-time and Clay Township part-time. Rapho is now being covered by Manheim Borough Police, and Clay is now part of the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department.

Magee went on to explain that Elizabeth Township is like an island surrounded by municipalities that have their own local police coverage. The state police cover most of the municipalities in the southern part of the county, while the northern boroughs and townships that surround Elizabeth Township tend to have their own officers. If the Ephrata barracks that currently covers Elizabeth Township does close, Troop J would be broken up and its officers would likely join the Lancaster or Reading stations, or the Chester County barracks. Some support staff would become redundant. There was no word on how those support positions would be handled.

Magee said he Google-mapped the drive time to the Elizabeth Township municipal building from both the Ephrata and Lancaster barracks. It is 12 minutes from Ephrata and more than twice that, 28 minutes, from Lancaster.

"But that’s in ideal conditions," said township secretary Rita Snavely.

"It looks like a strong possibility that (the Ephrata barracks closure) is going to happen unless the politicians come through with the funding," Magee said.

Elizabeth Township Supervisor Chairman Brian Wiker asked what could be done.

"My main concern right now is to make people aware that this (closure) is a possibility," Magee replied.

He suggested that concerned residents call or write the state police as well as their state representatives and senators.

"Please call," Magee said. "Both Rep. Gordon Denlinger and Sen. Mike Brubaker are against closing the barracks, but they need to hear from residents."

Wiker asked Snavely to draft a letter to Rep. Tom Creighton and Brubaker stating the township’s desire to keep the Ephrata barracks open. Supervisor Jeff Burkholder suggested also sending the letter to Governor Tom Corbett.

Magee noted that the local troopers currently have "more manpower for less area." The troopers therefore have the time to follow leads and make arrests. For instance, in an area where they used to see eight to 10 burglaries, they are now seeing only one or two because the drug addict is no longer on the streets burglarizing homes and cars.

Resident Gordon Wagner said, "It looks like a total lack of planning on the state’s part. What could be more of a priority than having a police department? I’d hate to lose the (state) police. I think we have excellent coverage."

Wagner went on to ask then supervisors to "write a very terse letter to protect our police department."

Wiker said, "It seems to me that the state is saving their budget and pushing more and more onto the municipalities, and forcing more and more regulations on the municipalities. They like making rules, but not paying for them."

"I concur," said Burkholder. More BARRACKS, page A18

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