Council discussed the possibility of seeking reimbursement for police services to other municipalities during Monday’s agenda setting meeting,
The discussion began with a measure, proposed by council members Ralph Chiappetta and John Todorich, that would define when Ellwood City police officers are permitted to respond to calls from other municipalities and attempt to get reimbursement from other municipalities for police services.
Currently, the Ellwood City Police Department responds to all calls from neighboring municipalities, such as Wayne and Perry Township. The measure, as initially proposed, would restrict responses unless the borough has a contract with the municipality or Ellwood officers are called by that municipality’s ranking officer. The proposal would forbid officers from answering calls because the police in that municipality are unable to arrive.
Chiappetta and Todorich, both serving their last month in office after losing re-elections, believe that the borough loses money from responding to calls without reimbursement.
Wayne Township has a part-time police force, and Wampum has officers on duty in the evenings. Perry Township has no police department. In municipalities without full-time police coverage, state police officers respond to calls. However, when local or state police can’t respond immediately, Ellwood police may be the first on the scene.
The Ellwood City police contract stipulates that two officers be on duty in the borough at all times. If an officer responds to a call in Wayne Township, then another officer must be called in on overtime.
“Wayne Township has less than part-time forces,” Todorich said. “These townships throw money around like manhole covers. They rely on state police, but we’re left holding the bag.”
Other members of council expressed approval at the spirit, but not necessarily the specific language, of the motion.
Council member Connie MacDonald said council must make sure that the motion complies with mutual aid, that is, police departments are required to aid each other in emergencies.
“This is important for our officers’ protection,” MacDonald said. He referenced an officer murdered in the line of duty on Nov. 28 in New Florance, Pa. The officer, from St. Clair Township, was the first to arrive on the scene.
Borough Solicitor Ed Leymarie said that it is important that the borough assist other municipalities, but as Ellwood is supplying a resource that nearby townships may not have, it’s important to ensure that the borough is reimbursed.
“I would hate to have a case where we didn’t respond and somebody died,” council President Brad Ovial said. “But we need to pursue getting reimbursed.”
Council member David DeCaria added that it is important to find out the facts before passing any resolution.
“How many times did we answer calls in the past year?” he asked. “What about liability issues?”
In addition, DeCaria said it was important to find the real cost to the borough. For example, if an officer responding to a Perry Township call results in four hours of overtime at a rate of $35.33, than Perry Township should reimburse Ellwood City $141.32.
Mayor Anthony J. Court said he will find out any necessary information. Although he agreed with the proposal, he added that officers from other municipalities, especially Wayne Township, assist Ellwood City.
“We need to be aware that this works both ways,” Court said.
“We have to work this out legally and responsibly,” Ovial said, recommending that Leymarie and Borough Manager Bob Villella meet with other municipalities to work out contracts.
As an example, Ellport Borough relies on Ellwood City but has a contract for police services.
Chiappetta agreed with further discussion to refine the proposal.
“It has to be done, and it has to be done right,” he said. “We have to protect our taxpayers.”