Lehigh Valley

Bath Borough considers leaving Colonial Regional Police Dept.

BATH, Pa. - A small Northampton County borough is considering a big change in police policy.

Bath has about 2,700 residents.

They are currently protected by the Colonial Regional Police Department but rising costs and declining revenues are forcing leaders to make some tough choices.

"This is the biggest decision Bath has made since 1995," Mayor Fiorella Mirabito told the audience of about 100 people.

It was 22 years ago the borough dissolved its original police department because it was economically unsustainable.

Bath entered into an agreement with the Colonial Regional Police Department, which now serves Hanover and Lower Nazareth townships, in addition to the borough.

The financial strains of a growing police department are now, once again, becoming too much for Bath to maintain.

The borough will spend about $414,000 in 2017 for police service provided by CRPD.  That cost will almost certainly rise in the near future.

Borough Manager Brad Flynn said the police department is "providing the highest level of law enforcement services to Bath at a premium cost."

 

All of the officials who spoke at Saturday's town hall praised the police department, but with the multitude of financial problems, they said have little to choice but to examine police services.

One possibility would be to acquire the services of the Moore Township Police Department.

The deal would cost $273,485 annually for three years. The cost would be fixed and would not fluctuate based on incidents.

Compared to CRPD, the borough would realize a 34 percent savings of $140,515 annually, or $421,545 over three years.

As part of the Moore Township plan, Bath would receive a designated patrol officer for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, which would be dependent on other serious calls or requests for backup in adjacent patrol zones.

The Pennsylvania State Police is another option, and officials said that plan would be the most cost effective.

Currently, it would cost the borough nothing to be covered by State Police.

Governor Wolf's office has suggested a $25 per capita charge for state police services, which could be set by the population. For example, communities with a population of 5,000 or larger may have to pay the state police fee. Bath would be exempt. Even if Bath was required to pay the $25 fee, would amount to $65,525 annually.

Neither Moore Township nor State Police services would be as comprehensive as Colonial Regional coverage.

Among six boroughs similar to Bath in the Lehigh Valley - Macungie, Coopersburg, Freemansburg Coplay, Walnutport and Alburtis - Bath ranks number one in cost per officer at $137,847.

In addition, Flynn said CRPD services have been outstanding but the borough's return on investment is debatable.

"What's the benefit?" Flynn asked during Saturday's meeting.

He presented research that would suggest there isn't much of one, or at least a very marginal one.

Flynn said the CRPD's DARE program could be cut with minimal impact.

He cited a 1999 Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology that said D.A.R.E. had "no effect on a teenager's rate of experimenting with drug use and was actually linked to lowering self-esteem."

Flynn said the CRPD responded to 36 incidents of ordinance violations between 2010 through 2015. Of those 36 incidents, records show six were cited or an arrest was made. Those six all occurred in one year -2012.

He added that Bath receives between 12 and 13 percent of the overall police patrol time and is thus paying for underutilized resources.

Council President Mark Saginario said the borough will keep Colonial Regional if it is the will of the people.

Saginario said keeping the department would be "the easiest" option but it would also mean the existing cash shortfalls would have to come from somewhere else.

"We have a high-class police department, no doubt about it," Saginario said. "But we can't afford it."


Flynn told residents "this council is not afraid of changing. The only thing we should be afraid of is not changing."

The manager said the borough is ranked seventh out of 19 in local property taxes in Northampton County. In 2016, Bath raised taxes to 15 mills from 13.50 mills. The increase was to establish a capital improvement/debt servicing fund of 1.25 mills, Next year, it is anticipated Bath will raise the debt servicing fund another 1.25 mills.

Residents who asked questions or made comments Saturday did not show a particular trend. Some were concerned about taxes that constantly go up, and still do not adequately meet the borough's road improvement needs. However, other residents noted that part of the reason crime has not been much of an issue is precisely because of the comprehensive service the Colonial Regional Police Department has provided since 1995, equating it to a quality of life issue.

Saginario said the issue will continue to be discussed at several council meetings in which public input will be welcomed.

The next meeting is scheduled for June 6. Council hopes to have a final decision made by December 15.

Whatever the final decision, Saginario asked those in attendance Saturday to keep at least one thought in their minds.

"Leave here with the understanding this council cares about the future of Bath."


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