Fountain Hill residents gathered in mass Tuesday night at the Laros auditorium inside St. Luke's Hospital's Doctor's Pavilion on Ostrum Street in the borough to voice their concerns against possible overnight coverage by the Pennsylvania State Police.
The state police coverage is being considered in an effort to cut police overtime costs and maintain the solvency of the force's pension plan.
Over 100 persons attended the meeting including a noticeable presence by St. Luke's staff. The hospital offered to host the gathering after the borough council's chamber was filled beyond capacity at the council's meeting two weeks ago. The meeting was canceled after borough officials deemed the numbers of persons in attendance unsafe.
State Police Lt. Dennis Long of the Bethlehem barracks addressed the crowd. He took questions mostly from Mayor Carolee Gifford regarding how quickly and efficiently the state police would answer overnight emergency medical and crime calls as compared to Fountain Hill cops.
Long said if the borough decides to discontinue overnight coverage, it was the state police's obligation under the law to provide it to Fountain Hill. He added the state police provide intermittent protection in other area municipalities, specifically in Upper Bucks County where large rural townships bordering one another use them effectively.
However, Fountain "Hillers" as they refer to themselves, argued the state police are not located close enough to the borough. Police would be required to pass through several other municipalities prior to their arrival in Fountain Hill, according to the residents.
Residents expressed their sincere appreciation for their police department's efforts. They said they would feel unsafe without their protection, especially at night. However, they offered little to no new solutions to the borough's budget woes and police pension plan's insolvency.
Upon entering the auditorium, St. Luke's not only offered free refreshments to the residents but also a flyer on their position as an entity. The hospital partners heavily with the municipality and the community in general with respect to community educational programs and initiatives.
However, one borough police officer who asked not to be identified said the hospital's claim on the handout that it represents only 6.9% of the borough police's call volume simply isn't true. The officer said borough patrols often spend 40% of their time answering St. Luke's inquiries.
The flyer also stated the hospital voluntarily pays nearly $57,000 annually in taxes on 14 properties and donated over $1.25 million to Fountain Hill the past 13 years.
Currently, the borough employs seven full-time and six part-time police officers. The average annual borough payroll expenditure including benefits per full-time officer is between $100,000 and $124,000.
The council said Tuesday's meeting was primarily for offering a forum for public input in the future of the police department and for information gathering purposes.
A decision on the police matter would not be rendered until further options on the matter were researched by borough officials.