In Work Session, Chief Wagner Puts Forth the Benefits of Staying with the Regional Police
MOUNT POCONO - Pocono Mountain Regional Police Chief Chris Wagner came to the Mount Pocono Borough Council work session armed with facts, figures, charts, and charm.
At the August council meeting, interim mayor Michael Christopher Penn, serving out the remainder of Fred Courtright’s term, told the council that regional police was “pricing itself out of business”.
Finally given an opportunity to address council, Chief Wagner produced a chart showing that, over a 13-year period, the PMRPD budget had increased only 16.6%, or an average of 1.28% a year. During that same period, the consumer price index increased by 26.6%.
In the August meeting, Penn also complained that Regional was not enforcing borough ordinances. Chief Wagner demonstrated that, despite having the smallest population and area, Mount Pocono has received a higher dollar disbursement of ordinance fines than any other municipality for the last seven years -- some years the borough collected over 50% of the total fines assessed in all five municipalities.
Responding to complaints that traffic enforcement was lacking in the borough, the Chief showed the council and the audience charts demonstrating that in 2019, Mount Pocono received more traffic fines distributed by the magistrates than any other town in the Regional coverage area.
The Chief also revealed that the borough is not in fact paying Regional at 2019 rates. Instead, the borough has reduced its coverage and is purchasing fewer police hours than in 2019 so that its cost of the coverage equals 2019’s cost. But, because it is in fact paying the 2% increase (for which both Penn and Williams voted while swerving on the Police Commission). the 2020 rates result in fewer hours purchased.
At last month’s Tobyhanna Township Supervisor’s meeting, they announced that the Chief asked Tobyhanna is they wanted to pick up the hours Mount Pocono is not using for police protection and they accepted.
Numerous members of the community spoke in favor of maintaining the borough’s relationship with Regional. Jodi Bohdal, owner of Pocono Rocks and President of the Mount Pocono Association, told the council that the MPA “feels Regional is doing a great job.”
Before the meeting, the mayor passed out literature apparently intending to show the expense of Regional police, which is a significant part of the borough’s annual budget. But after the Chief said that a starting officer is paid about $43-48,000 a year, Robin Murray asked to speak. Addressing council, she referred to council’s employment of Jean Simchak as a “temporary” assistant borough secretary, at an hourly rate equal to $52,000 a year. She suggested that was an example of the problem with the borough budget -- when “a police officer starts out less than our [temporary] secretary.”
When Murray told council, “You can’t put a price on your safety,” Council member Ron Emilie, who favors dropping regional in favor of State Police, retorted, “We’ll just have to raise your taxes then.”
State Police provide coverage to municipalities who do not have their own police coverage and currently do so without a fee. Penn claimed the borough would save $730,000 a year by switching to State Police service from Regional.
Williams and Penn brought state police representatives to the August work session, where they conceded that they do not enforce local ordinances. There were also concerns of response time by the State Police, but they did not provide any data at the August work session on response time.
Chief Wagner conceded that “Policing is expensive. But Regional gives you the biggest bang for your buck.” He pointed out that Regional brings with it a variety of resources and a much larger force than the borough would be able to maintain on its own.
No action on the police issue was planned during the work session. The combined time of the special meeting and work session was a crushing 3 hours 40 minutes, including the late start and mid-meeting executive session.