police lights

CENTRAL CITY, Pa. – Central City Borough took a big step Monday toward redeploying a police force.

In a move that borough officials stressed doesn’t guarantee the department’s return, council voted 4-1 to formally reinstate Central City Police Department, which has been disbanded for 17 years. They also voted to draft an ordinance that would raise taxes by a mill to cover a portion of the annual police costs.

It’s those not-yet-finalized costs that still had council crunching numbers on Monday, with members both for and against the idea of restarting the force stressing that nothing’s finalized.

But after Councilman Dan Bulger shared estimates suggesting it would cost a bit more than $50,000 annually to field a three-officer, part-time department, three fellow members backed him in a 4-1 vote to continue exploring the move.

“Nothing’s set in stone, but we gotta start somewhere,” said Bulger, who is vocal about getting local coverage back in the borough.

Central City hasn’t had its own police department since 2004. The borough contracted with Paint Township until the regional department folded and, more recently, with Shade Township until the bill for coverage got too steep.

Councilman Joe Holsopple noted the $24,000 that Central City budgeted for Shade Township police coverage would cover about half the annual expense for a local force – if council sticks with plans to hire part-time officers at $18 an hour to provide 36 hours of coverage per week.

A dedicated mill tax raise would add another $12,000 toward the cost, leaving council to turn to the general fund to cover the difference, Jason McClemens added.

Councilman Lee Cook was skeptical about the costs, suggesting insurance estimates and other operational expenses will end up much higher. He voted against both the move and the ordinance toward paying for the department.

“We’re talking about spending $50,000 to protect 1,070 people. Police (coverage) is nice to have, but do we need it?” Cook said.

To Bulger, there’s no question Central City needs it. He and several fellow council members cited drug issues, rising violence and unchecked all-terrain vehicle traffic among reasons Central City is struggling without a regular police presence.

Council President Bob Sanzo noted that, if lawmakers get their way, no-cost state police coverage could one day come with a price tag, too – perhaps $12,800 – “and we still wouldn’t have protection,” he added.

“I’m willing to try this,” Sanzo said of the step toward bringing back a local department. “I just don’t want to overtax the low-income people in our borough.”

Bulger said the 1-mill addition would add $25 a year to the average tax bill.

“I don’t think anyone would have a problem with paying that,” he said.

If all goes accordingly, council said, it would likely be several months before they’d be in position to add officers.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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