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Cheswick residents consider using neighboring police departments

| Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, 1:41 p.m.
Cheswick resident Judy Yaksetich shows her disapproval of Cheswick Council and its plans to merge the Cheswick Police Department with a neighboring town's during a meeting at the Cheswick Christian Academy gymnasium on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Cheswick resident Dr. Ron Daltorio speaks in defense of Cheswick Council while discussing plans to merge the Cheswick Police Department with a neighboring town's during the meeting at the Cheswick Christian Academy gymnasium on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Cheswick resident Diana Borland tells Cheswick Council how her 7-year-old son related their town to the desolate town from the Pixar movie 'Cars' while discussing plans to merge the Cheswick Police Department with a neighboring town's during a meeting at the Cheswick Christian Academy gymnasium on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Cheswick Councilman Frank Meledandri discusses plans to merge the Cheswick Police Department with a neighboring town's during a meeting at Cheswick Christian Academy gymnasium on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Cheswick Council President Vickie Roolf listens to a discussion of plans to merge the Cheswick Police Department with a neighboring town's during a meeting at Cheswick Christian Academy gymnasium on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

CHESWICK — Officials from the borough's neighboring communities talked to Cheswick residents about providing police protection Thursday night.

But with none offering any hard cost figures, it was like listening to a car salesman extolling the virtues of the newest model while dancing around the sticker price.

“Basically, what we are doing is getting their resumes,” said resident Nino Pollino, who was among about 100 people who heard the sales pitches.

Cheswick Council President Vickie Roolf told residents that the borough didn't ask for cost figures because council has not yet agreed to do that. She said council probably will issue a request for proposals at some point.

“We just wanted to let you know what is out there, what we were looking into,” Roolf said.

Borough officials called the town meeting Thursday to get public input on the police department's future. Some council members have suggested the borough could save money by doing away with the department, for which it budgeted $375,000 this year. The department has only two full-time officers plus several part-timers.

Nothing was decided.

“We're going to have to have another (meeting), yes, “ Roolf said, adding that it would be after getting firm proposals.

What residents heard Thursday was that if council disbands the police department, there really are two alternatives. One would be a merger with another department or several departments, or contracting with one of its neighboring communities to provide police services.

Roolf and Springdale Councilman John Molnar talked about previous merger studies and said that separate labor agreements and increased costs that some communities might incur do not make mergers a viable option.

That left most of the discussion to focus on contracting police services.

Cheswick residents heard Springdale Township Police Chief Mike Naviglia, Molnar and Harmar Township Supervisors Chairman Michael Hillery talk about their departments.

They discussed the number of officers each has, the number of vehicles and types of equipment each has as well as their ability to provide police services in a timely manner.

Naviglia said that response time for his department into Cheswick is not a problem. He said getting from one point in Springdale Township to another usually involves going through Cheswick.

“You would have no difference than what you have now,” Naviglia said.

Hillery said Harmar has made overtures on police coverage to Cheswick and to Springdale Township before, so it's not new to them. He said Harmar has two officers on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they would be able to cover Cheswick.

“I strongly feel that with contracted services and a five-year agreement, we could probably save Cheswick up to $1 million over five years,” Hillery said.

Molnar said he would recommend a two-year agreement with “an out” for either community if one wants to end the arrangement.

Also he said he would propose a five-member police commission, with three members from Springdale and two from Cheswick, to oversee police protection and suggest improvements. He said it might be possible to save some money by cutting back on police protection on Sundays when things are more quiet.

That was a non-starter for Roolf.

“I said from the beginning, we are going to have our own police person,” she said. “We want our own officer.”

Several residents questioned whether the borough should eliminate the police department.

An angry Diana Borland told the borough officials, “Where does it end? You want to get rid of the fire department. You want to get rid of the police department. What's next? The public works department, the manager, the secretaries?

“We are the taxpayers, “ she continued. “We want our police department.”

“The people don't understand, if we don't do something like this, the taxes are going to go up,” Roolf said.

But Lindsey Sandusky, borough fire chief, said, “I think they understand that we want our police department no matter what. I don't think cost is a factor to us, we want our police department.”

Not all residents feel that way, however.

Dr. Ron Daltorio took issue with some of the criticism levelled at borough officials. He said nobody has cared about what's going on until now. He said he has been going to council meetings for a few years and there is usually only two to four residents in attendance.

“This borough is built on provincialism,” Daltorio said. “It's built on ‘I's'. They want a police car in front of their house. They want a fire truck in front of their house.”

He said that it's becoming too tough for a borough of 2,500 people to continue to pay for the same level of services.

“We can't bring business in to pay the big tax bucks,” Daltorio said. “We are galloping rapidly from the 19th to the 20th Century.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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