Cocalico Corner: No cop out for Burns

By on January 6, 2016

The newest West Cocalico Township supervisor is a man with a plan to protect and serve the adopted municipality he has come to love over the past 30 years.

Republican Ray Burns, who ran unopposed in both the 2015 primary and general elections, believes his township is traveling the right road and he wants to make sure it stays the course.

Sworn in Tuesday morning, Burns assumes the seat vacated after 18 years by Chairman Jacque Smith.

Photo by Donna Reed Supervisor Ray Burns stands by the front door of the West Cocalico Township building.

Photo by Donna Reed
Supervisor Ray Burns stands by the front door of the West Cocalico Township building.

Burns, interviewed while in his last days as a supervisor-elect, said he always wanted to be more civically involved in the Cocalico community, but believed he needed to wait until after his retirement in April 2013 to step forward.

“I intentionally avoided being involved in a lot of community stuff while I working (as an East Cocalico Township police officer),” he said, “because I didn’t want the perception that such involvement would in any way influence the decisions I was making on the job.”

When Burns was hired on the East Cocalico force in 1983, the Bucks County native first moved his family to Denver Borough. In 1991, the family made another move to their current house in West Cocalico.

“I had a good career and benefited both personally and family wise that people in the Cocalico community afforded us,” said Burns. “I felt the responsibility in some small way to pay it back.”

Following his retirement, Burns started to attend township meetings. Many issues piqued his interest and the supervisors appointed him as the West Cocalico representative at large for the police advisory board.

It was as a member of that board that he saw the most action as West Cocalico officials along with their colleagues in East Cocalico and Denver and Adamstown boroughs struggled with the creation of a Cocalico regional police force.

For the better part of a year and a half, facts were gathered, finances pondered, citizen input poured in, and, along that way, emotions erupted and frustrations bristled. Coverage in the Review and other news outlets followed the saga in detail.

In the end, much to Burns’ chagrin, hopes for a regional force were dashed when West Cocalico and Adamstown officials withdrew from the discussions. And, following that, both municipalities would go on to sever their long-held contracts for coverage by Burn’s East Cocalico police force alma mater, opting instead to contract with Ephrata police.

Burns is diplomatic in his assessment of the situation.

“I will say that, I think to each person involved with the process, the majority felt all would be best served by one police department,” he contended. “That being said, when it was apparent that couldn’t be the case with West Cocalico due to the dicsussions taking place up to earlier this year — with other options remaining — the only other I thought would work out for the residents is that the Ephrata police force would work out best for West Cocalico.”

Like many on the regional police board, Burns was concerned that it would be best for one force to cover the entire Cocalico School District. (Until Dec. 31, all the schools were under East Cocalico coverage which had been contracted by the four municipalities comprising the school district.)

But Burns has real confidence in the new police coverage that began Jan. 1.

“The Ephrata Police Department will provide excellent service for the people of West Cocalico,” said Burns. That department is also an alma mater of his — Burns served as a part-time Ephrata officer in the 1980s until the department eliminated part-time positions.

As an incoming supervisor, Burns has met with Ephrata Police representatives, adding to his comfort level,

He has also eased into the transition to public office by faithfully attending meetings since the primary where he engaged in public comment. Burns has also worked with Supervisors Terry Scheetz and James J. Stoner as well as the retiring Smith.

Among the biggest of challenges facing West Cocalico is one the municipality shares with others across Pennsylvania: federal- and state-mandated programs and policies.

“I think with all the small municipalities, it is a constant challenge to meet the standards and regulations imposed either by the state or federal government,” he said. “These come with no funding but the need is there to figure out ways to comply.

“We are a small community, an agricultural community with very limited room for residential or commercial expansion &tstr;so that’s a big challenge.”

He has a lot of praise for the current board of supervisors who have kept spending at bay and the tax rate stable.

“I think a lot of people live in West Cocalico, first of all, due to the relatively low tax rate and the fact that it is a convenient area from which to commute to Lancaster or Reading,” Burns said.

At 56, the “retired” Burns still holds part-time jobs with the Caron Foundation, the Cocalico School District and Dorwood Products in Denver.

But, above everything, Burns notes his commitment to his family &tstr; wife Dawn, son Christopher of Hummelstown, daughter April of West Cocalico, and his five grandchildren.

“They are all OK with what I’m doing,” he said, “and that’s very important.”

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