Raucous crowd packs meeting to back Ford City police force
Ford City residents spoke in favor of keeping the borough’s police force at a Monday town hall meeting that included enough drama to bring one attendee to comment upon leaving that it was “better than a Broadway play.”
The 2 1⁄2-hour meeting about the fate of the borough’s police department drew about 150 to the Ford City High School auditorium.
In July, the borough’s police committee, made up of council members Vicki Schaub, Jerry Miklos and Scott Gaiser, suggested the department be disbanded.
“The purpose of this meeting is to present you with facts so you can make an informed decision,” said borough Manager Eden Ratliff.
He gave a presentation that covered topics including the borough’s largest expenses — police topped the list — median incomes in Ford City and nearby municipalities, and budgets of police departments in other Armstrong County communities.
The borough’s budget for this year is about $2.5 million; the police department budget accounts for about 20 percent of that ($515,000).
“Those of you who live here, own businesses and pay taxes here, we want to hear what you have to say,” Ratliff told the crowd.
And they obliged.
About 15 residents, ranging from teachers to bankers to retirees, took to the floor. All spoke in favor of the police. Some questioned figures presented by officials. Others expressed doubts over state police response times.
As he wrapped up his comments, resident Al Garay removed his prosthetic leg, thumped it against the lip of the auditorium’s stage and asked, “What am I supposed to protect myself with — this?”
Lorraine Helsh, a manager at Ford City’s Citizens Bank, said tellers are scared what might happen if the borough eliminated its police force.
“Police are the biggest deterrent,” she said. “We know how bad drugs are; we know what could happen.”
Several residents suggested they would pay higher taxes to keep the police department intact.
Homer Pendleton, a former councilman, said disbandment should be one of council’s “last options.”
“They ought to really sit down and try to work out something,” he said.
That did not seem likely at some points Monday.
Particularly not when Schaub slammed down the gavel and warned Miklos and Mayor Marc Mantini that if their bickering continued, the two borough police officers stationed at the auditorium’s entrance would remove them from the building.
Representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police, from local Lodge 39 and the state level, were among the few who did not have a chance to say their piece. They learned upon arriving at the meeting that only Ford City citizens and business owners were to be given the floor.
“But, the people spoke for themselves,” said Ted Meixelsberger of Lodge 39.
Julie Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1315 or [email protected].