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Ford City’s proposed budget would slash police force

Tribune-Review
| Wednesday, November 26, 2014 8:03 p.m

Ford City would lose most of its police officers under the proposed 2015 budget.

The $2.1 million preliminary spending plan would eliminate 11 of the borough’s 12 part-time police positions, leaving the borough with two full-time officers and one part-time officer.

The overall 2015 budget would be about $400,000 less than this year’s spending plan, said Eden Ratliff, borough manager. Taxes would remain the same at 17.4 mills.

Under the proposed budget, $214,000 would be cut directly from the police budget — a 44 percent decrease from its $490,000 budget for this year.

Ford City Officer-in-Charge Sgt. John Atherton called the proposed cuts in police spending a threat to the safety of the public and police officers.

“The budget would create an unmanned, part-time department. There would be unmanned hours,” he said. “It sounds to me like there would be open shifts and there would be shifts that would be worked by one person.”

“We did cut a few things that we had to,” said Council President Kathy Bartuccio. “We’re trying to make things work.”

The proposed 2015 budget trims about $14,000 from the street department and does not include a $75,000 tax anticipation loan as the previous year’s did. An additional $10,000 would be trimmed from the public safety budget in areas other than the police department.

Council voted 6-0 Wednesday to advertise its proposed budget. Councilman Scott Gaiser was absent.

“They could still rebudget, they could make minor changes, but they don’t want to raise taxes,” Ratliff said.

About $160,500 is budgeted for police salaries in 2015. That includes enough for two full-time officers and one part-time officer, Ratliff said.

Ford City employs two full-time officers and a rotation of 12 part-time police. The department provides 24/7 coverage.

Ratliff attributed the $400,000 cut in the overall budget to changes in how the borough spends public utility funds. That money, he said, will be diverted to a reserve for the borough’s water plant project.

“We have fundamentally changed the way we are operating and how we are spending now,” he said.

The borough is receiving less in state municipal pension money and fire insurance, he said.

Steve Aulerich, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 39, which represents Ford City’s full-time officers, said a pending grievance against the borough may impact next year’s spending.

Arbitration is ongoing in a case between the borough and its full-time cops over whether Ford City has to fill a third position left empty last year when long-time officer Ronald Klingensmith retired.

“I don’t know why they would do something like that, unless they’re trying to set the department up for failure,” Aulerich said in reference to the budget cuts. “If the arbitration ruling would come down saying the borough violated the contract, they’d have to hire a third officer and it would put them immediately over budget.”

But the cuts, Bartuccio said, are not directly related to the possibility of eliminating the borough’s police force, rather they’re based on a line-by-line budget analysis for cost effectiveness.

The specter of police disbandment has followed the borough since council’s police committee in July recommended the department be dismantled and replaced with state police coverage.

“I think we just have to figure out how to keep the police,” Bartuccio said. “We want to keep the police. But we have to be able to afford them.”

Council is expected to vote on the final budget at the end of December. The proposed 2015 budget is available for review at the borough offices at 1000 Fourth Ave.

Julie E. Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1315 or jmartin@tribweb.com.

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