Council member Bob Jennings threw another bomb at the meeting of the Honesdale Borough Council on Monday, October 8 when he suggested that the police force be expanded.
“I move that we should hire two full-time officers for the borough police for the safety and health of the borough,” he said.
The suggestion was provocative because the last board struggled with the new budget and, under pressure to keep expenses down since it had to borrow $400,000 to meet expenses, decided to lay off at least two full-time officers.
Mayor Ed Langendoerfer, who works in close association with the police department as part of his duties, quickly supported Jennings’ motion.
“I started out a little skeptical in my job as mayor monitoring the department, thinking that the department may be too expensive, but I soon changed my mind when I saw the hard job the police have in this town and what a conscientious job they all do,” he said. “I suggest that you take a look at how hard they work and how important it is to the borough.”
With a total expenditure of $887,200, the police department accounts for 31% of the budget. Two full-time officers would cost the borough, with salary and benefits, an estimated $140,000.
Not everyone agreed. “My objection is that we must keep our taxes as low as possible because of the high number of seniors and those on limited income,” said councilman Jim Brennan. “We’re spending a lot now on the police force. Adding more will be harmful to our residents.”
The force currently has seven full-time police and 10 part-time officers.
“For 12 years, we’ve had nine full-time officers,” said police chief Joe LoBasso. “But the last board was under pressure to lower expenses of all departments and decided to lay off two full-time officers and settle with only seven full-time.” When the former police chief Mark Flynn and lieutenant Lawrence Witt retired, they were not replaced, thus saving the borough from laying off two officers, he said.
“It’s extremely difficult to fill shifts,” LoBasso said. “We have to cover 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 52 weeks of the year. And we want experienced policemen out there. The pool of candidates is limited. Some of the 10 part-timers could leave anytime if they get a better job on another police force. It’s becoming more and more difficult to insure the safety and health of the residents. We can’t go on like this.”
One possible solution is to turn to regionalism, a program that is succeeding in other communities.
“We would be sharing our duties with neighboring townships and sharing funds,” LoBasso said. “And if we are in a regional program, there are a list of grants open to us from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).”
“We will have to seriously look into this regionalism idea,” said F.J. Monaghan, the president of the council. “We should get on the phone to our neighboring municipalities and see if they are open to such an idea.”
“There are regional programs in Pike County, Monroe County and Stroud Township,” LoBasso said. “They are very pleased with the way it has worked out.”