Cutting police budget a hot topic in Weissport
Gail Maholick/TIMES NEWS Elliott Miller guards the drug evidence bags that police had displayed to show residents exactly what was confiscated in Weissport in the past year.
With the potential of cutting police hours to 20 hours a week in 2010, several Weissport residents pleaded Monday night with council members to consider cutting the budget somewhere else instead of cutting the police budget.
Council members held a budget meeting to discuss the 2010 budget last week and during that meeting, council was warned that it could only afford 20 hours in 2010, by secretary Dana Brubaker, who compiled the budget.
During the budget meeting, Brubaker said that council only has $142,450 in anticipated revenue and that most other costs, except for the police department and public works, were fixed costs. She said that Weissport could only afford $25,000 for police, which breaks down to $14,000 for salary and another $11,000 for auxiliary costs, such as workers' compensation insurance and costs for police vehicles.
Resident Rick Bennick was the most vocal of the residents attending Monday's meeting. Bennick said that he fears cutting back on police will only bring larger drug problems to town.
"We have no choice," said council vice president Sue Pywar. "We're not a rich borough. We just have no money for more than 20 hours. We just can't afford them." Pywar was in charge of the meeting because council President Shannon McAward was absent.
Bennick and other residents at the meeting said that drugs, alcohol and domestic problems are all around them because of absentee landlords.
"We're tired of people thinking we want to know about their drug-induced, alcoholic lives," said Bennick. Bennick said that people openly shoot drugs and urinate in the alley.
Mayor Tina Hagenbuch said that she was trying to get funding for police by writing grants, but that sometimes it takes up to a year to get the funding.
Also speaking up was Weissport's part time Police Chief John Doucette III, who said that his department was able to secure two warrants which resulted in retrieving a large amount of drugs, including cocaine and crack and drug paraphernalia. The evidence was stacked up in evidence bags along the back of the room and closely guarded by officer Elliott Miller.
At times, the subject of police funding was hotly debated by council member Arland Moyer and the mayor.
Moyer noted that the reason there was such a discrepancy in the budget was because police did not come close to bringing in the revenue they had budgeted.
That riled up Hagenbuch who said the police department did bring their revenue in.
The argument was stopped by Pywar who banged the gavel.
"I know you're against the police department," said Hagenbuch to one resident.
The resident, Lynette Moyer, replied that she was not against the police department, but doesn't want to see her taxes go up again.
"I work three part-time jobs and my taxes went up $300 last year," said Moyer.
Hagenbuch said that wasn't due to the police department.
Then secretary Brubaker explained that last year the police department was way over budget.
Bennick asked if police regionalization would be an answer.
Doucette said that local police departments, such as Franklin Township and Lehighton, are in favor of regionalization, but that councils and supervisors are not. Doucette invited residents to offer information anonymously to police if they think they see drug activity.
Doucette said he worked with FBI and other agencies with drug arrests.
"We need to start seeing more of this stuff in the paper," said Bennick.
"I'm not a guy who likes to give interviews and get in the press," said Doucette.
Doucette said he is aware of people who are "dirty," but that he has to respect their constitutional rights.
"If you do a harebrained job, when it gets in front of the judge, it gets thrown out," said Doucette. "You have to have reason to stop a car."
Doucette said that last week Miller was able to make a drug arrest that resulted from a traffic stop.
"The money needs to come from somewhere so we can protect our children," said Bennick. "They shouldn't have to see people shooting drugs and exposing themselves when they urinate in the alleys."
Weissport will hold a second budget meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 12. Tentative adoption is scheduled for November and final adoption will be in December.