WINDBER – Just a few years ago, Paint Township had a regional police department that covered a large portion of northern Somerset County.
Now, their police cruisers won’t even be patrolling Paint Township streets.
With the resignation of the township’s lone remaining officer final as of Monday and the township police clerk let go Tuesday, township officials have disbanded the department, with an eye toward finding a neighboring department to serve their streets.
“As of this week, we’re done,” Paint Township Supervisor Lewis Clark II said following the township’s meeting on Tuesday. “Our hope is to get better service for the same amount of money in the future.”
Township officials have been planning the move for at least a year.
They originally announced intentions to shutter the department after the township’s contract with their police union expired at the end of this year.
But longtime Paint Township Officer Ed Porada Jr. decided to resign and seek other work. And with that final on Monday, the decision was expedited, Clark said.
Porada covered township calls for 40 hours a week, on average, with state police filling the rest.
Now, state police have been notified that Paint Township will need calls to be handled 24/7 until further notice.
Total police department costs for 2016 were budgeted at nearly $200,000 for the year, also including now-former police clerk Heather Kephart’s salary, and department costs like fuel, insurance and supplies, township staff said.
A handful of township residents attended Tuesday’s meeting but none expressed concern about supervisors’ decision to idle the police department.
The township scaled back the department more than two years ago after its more than $800,000 regional force – and other overspending – was blamed for several years of deficit spending.
The end result was a loan and a 6 mill tax increase that current supervisors are working to trim.
Last year, the township reduced taxes by 1 mill and Clark said that if all goes well, supervisors will repeat the move for 2017.
The township’s former police office – a municipal building addition – won’t be vacant. A section of it, including garage space, will now be rented to Matthew Maurizio, owner of Hilltop Office Supply in Johnstown, under a one-year lease.
Through the deal, Maurizio’s rent will go toward the $3,323 monthly township police building mortgage. He’ll also pay water and electricity costs and will take over housekeeping, all costs the township had been accruing with the office seldom used, Clark said.
An evidence room was among the last areas of the space to be emptied, he said.
The Somerset County District Attorney’s Office has inventoried and taken over control of all of it for future trials, Clark said.
Supervisors said the township’s website has been updated to direct callers to notify state police for issues. Their answering machine now does the same, he said.