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Southwest Regional grows

| Saturday, Jan. 29, 2005

BELLE VERNON - Southwest Regional police cruisers will begin patrolling in a new community.

Long Branch Borough officials signed a one-year contract last night with the night with theht with the Southwest Regional Police Department.

The department will begin patrolling Tuesday in Long Branch.

Long Branch swore in the Southwest police officers last night.

Southwest Regional is a joint department involving Belle Vernon and Newell boroughs, both in Fayette County.

The tiny Washington County community of Long Branch has about 500 residents and operates on a budget of less than $100,000 annually.

"It's a good fit for us," Long Branch Mayor Joseph DeBlassio said of the new police deal.

DeBlassio said borough officials had been inquiring about joining a regionalized police force for several months.

Long Branch has depended on Pennsylvania State Police from the Belle Vernon barracks, since borough officials disbanding the local police department in 1996.

DeBlassio approached Belle Vernon Mayor James Bitonti during a Tri-County Boroughs Association meeting several months ago and the plans grew from that discussion.

In the ensuing months, officials from both sides met on a regular basis and worked out a contract.

DeBlassio said the one-year deal will cost the borough about $15,000.

The police force currently features one full-time officer, Chief John Hartman, and five part-time employees. Bitonti said one more part-time officer will be hired.

Both men said the contract was a "trial term" that can be canceled with 30 days notice.

"We wanted to see how it goes first, but we're hopeful that it will benefit the community," DeBlassio said.

The contract has been approved by both Belle Vernon and Newell borough councils.

The regional police board comprises Chairman Rich Saxberg, who is also Belle Vernon council vice president and fire chief; Newell Mayor Nikki Dodaro, Bitonti and secretary Bernadette Guiser, a Newell councilwoman.

Bitonti says the deal is good for all communities involved.

"It shows how great regionalization can work," Bitonti said.

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