The City of Carbondale is one step closer to providing police services in Fell Twp., after council agreed last week to move forward with talks for a final contract.
During a meeting on Monday night, Nov. 18, council voted unanimously to authorize Mayor Justin Taylor and city solicitor Atty. Frank Ruggiero to negotiate the agreement.
Although city and township officials agreed on a payment of $75,000 annually to Carbondale for the service, the length of the contract is another matter. Fell Twp. had been talking about a two-year contract for $150,000, but Taylor informed the council members last week that the city is only interested in a one-year deal for $75,000.
"We feel it's best to start this out slowly," he told the NEWS.
He said the proposed pact would also include a termination provision as a clause to ensure that the contract could be discontinued if it doesn't work out as anticipated.
"The biggest concern we have is not that we won't be able to handle it, because I know we'll be able to provide a great level of service to the people of Fell Township," Taylor related. "Our main concern is with the cost estimate."
He said the city did a thorough review of three years of police data for Fell Twp., looking at state police records, 911 calls and more.
"We spent a lot of time on it," he offered, "and we determined that there are an average of 250 to 275 police calls or incidents a year in the township."
However, Taylor noted that he expects that number to be higher once Carbondale starts providing services, so the city is basing its cost estimate on handling 300 calls.
"The state police do a great job, but they're so busy that they weren't always able to come up and handle some of the more minor incidents for township residents in a timely manner," he explained. "We feel that over time some people simply stopped calling in those reports, but we believe they'll be more likely to do so if they have a local police department responding quickly."
"So we're expecting an increase in the volume of calls," he stated, "but if instead of 300 it jumps up to 500 or doubles to 600 in a year, we just can't do it at that rate [$75,000 annually]. That means if it's only March and we already have 300 calls, we may have to pull the plug on the deal. Either that or renegotiate the contract."
Concerns about the cost aside, Taylor said he has high hopes for the program.
"We want to do this and I'm convinced we can make it work," he insisted. "Once the people of Fell Township see the level of service we're going to be providing for them, I believe they're going to be very happy and they'll want to keep us as their police force going forward."
Page 2 of 2 - To that end, Taylor said he would like the city's agreement with Fell Twp. to be a pilot project by which Carbondale begins expanding its police services to other municipalities.
"We've downsized our police department since I took office because it was simply too big for the tax base that exists here in the city," he related, "but if we're bringing in these types of contractual services, we may be able to grow the department again over time while also providing a very valuable service to other communities."
Last month, the Fell Twp. Planning Commission held a public hearing to gauge public support for the proposed deal, and most of the 14 residents in attendance offered their support. One resident abstained, but no one went on record as being against the plan.
Then, at their regular meeting earlier this month, the Fell Twp. supervisors voted unanimously to move forward with final negotiations for a contract, based in part on the planning commission's recommendation.
Fell Twp. board chairman Ron Cosklo stated that contracted police services would include six specific areas of coverage — traffic, parking, nuisance issues, 24-hour patrols, 911 calls, and court appearances. He said the City of Carbondale would provide the patrol vehicles and cover insurance, and he also noted that the township would not be responsible for legacy obligations such as retirement or Workmens Compensation for officers.
Cosklo said he expects the patrols to go into effect in January.