officials are willing to entertain a request from neighboring for an early release of its services contract with the township—but first they want more information.
“It’s not an easy ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question,” said Cranberry Supervisor Dick Hadley.
At Thursday’s board of supervisors meeting, township manager Jerry Andree told officials that Seven Fields recently asked Cranberry to consider an early termination of the agreement.
Under the terms of the contract— which runs through 2016, with an earlier optional termination date at the end of 2014—Seven Fields, which is made up of about 2,887 residents, pays 7.5 percent of the Cranberry Township police budget. In 2012, that amounted to $337,074.
By 2016, the cost would equal about $400,000.
“I pretty much communicated back to them that our board is always willing to look at options, but we would ask that they provide more information to this board on the direction they’re going,” Andree said Thursday. “If they want to go with the state police, you should know that, because that has an impact on our community.”
Andree said Seven Fields officials approached the township several months ago and asked if Cranberry would be willing to continue providing police coverage, but at a lower cost.
According to a newsletter to residents on the Seven Fields website, officials in the borough, which is a little less than one square mile in size, are concerned the police services are becoming cost prohibitive, especially as Cranberry continues to grow, both commercially and residentially.
“While Seven Fields has been satisfied with the overall police protection that has been provided, borough officials have serious concerns about the ability of Seven Fields to keep pace with the cost of police services,” the newsletter said.
An agreement was not reached. In his own blog on the Cranberry website, Andree explained the township’s decision.
“Our response was that if we lowered the price, borough residents would get the same high-quality police protection as Cranberry residents, but for less than our residents themselves had to pay,” Andree wrote. “In effect, Cranberry residents would be subsidizing their neighbors’ police service.” (To read more of Andree’s blog, click here)
Seven Fields has since begun to explore other options, including starting its own police force, creating a regional police department with another community, or relying on state police for protection.
“Officials want to insure the standard of service is not compromised,” the Seven Fields newsletter said.
At Thursday’s meeting, Cranberry officials emphasized the need more guidance on the borough’s decision.
Hadley said he would prefer the borough conduct a feasibility study on its protection options before Cranberry grants its request for early termination of the contract.
He also suggested Cranberry conduct its own study or join Seven Fields in a joint study. Andree noted a decision by Seven Fields not to continue its contract with the township could affect how Cranberry staffs its police department.
“At least we’ll get the answers we’re looking for, how it’s going to affect us, and we can make logical decisions on the impact on our community,” Hadley said of a study.
Supervisor John Skorupan added a study might show Seven Fields’ best option is to continue contracting police services with Cranberry. Until an answer is found, he thought it best to not to give Seven Fields an early release from the contract.
“We need to keep this thing under our control for a while until we know where we’re going,” he said. “What happens if they come back and say, ‘We didn’t find anything we like, can we renegotiate? We’re not going to go through all that again.”
Seven Fields last renewed its police services contract with Cranberry in 2009 after a lengthy process that included mediation with a state police services consultant before coming to a mutual agreement, Andree said. Seven Fields has contracted police protection with Cranberry since 1993. Prior to that, the borough had it own police department.
If Seven Fields chooses to go with services from state police, Supervisor Dave Root said he was concerned Cranberry would end up being called for backup before troopers from Butler could arrive in the area. In that scenario, Cranberry would not be paid for its services because of mutual aid agreements in place in the area.
“In other words, they would get free police protection, basically,” he said.
Andree said he would communicate the supervisors’ concerns to Seven Fields officials.
Before a decision on police protection services is reached, Seven Fields has said in its newsletter that there would be an opportunity for residents to express their opinion on the matter, either through public meetings in September and October or via email.
What do you think of the police service options for Seven Fields? Do you have a good solution? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.