By Benjamin Kapenstein
Change in government is something that never comes easy. When things have been done the same way for what seems like an eternity, naturally people are inclined to continue down the path of least resistance.
We’ve all heard the quote, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, in my opinion, we should replace that quote with, “It’s not broken, but why not try to make it better?”
At this point I am unable to give my opinion on whether or not I think we should regionalize our police force in Middletown. What I can say is that it is our job as elected officials to explore ways to provide efficient service at the lowest possible cost. Therefore, I feel it is imperative that we thoroughly explore this option and together with the taxpayers of Middletown make an intelligent, informed decision.
I attended the Dauphin County police regionalization meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 13, where summary results of the study being conducted by Dauphin County were presented. While this was just a summary and did not encompass valuable backup information, it did provide a look at potential savings that the municipalities could realize by combining their police departments.
Several options were presented with annual cost savings for the borough estimated at anywhere from $280,000 to $1.19 million. When your entire budget is around $6 million, these savings are extremely significant.
To put things in perspective, I’d like to talk about the current cost of providing police service in the Borough of Middletown. To be fair, it’s important to note that public safety/police service is by far the largest expenditure of almost every local government in Pennsylvania and the nation. Police services are one of, if not the most, important service provided by a local government and therefore will always take up a large chunk of the budget.
The purpose of providing this information is not to attack our men and women in uniform, but simply to provide facts so that we can find ways to create efficiencies and make things better for everyone.
Exhibit 1, provided by the borough's financial consultants, shows a breakdown of projected actual expenditures that the borough paid in 2014. You will see that about 45 percent of our revenues are spent on police services. That’s more than double the amount of our next highest expense, which is general government services.
Now let’s take a look at Exhibit 2. This chart, provided by the borough's financial consultants, shows what the budget could look like with a hypothetical $1 million of savings on police services. You will see that as the percentage of our money that is spent on police services goes down, the percentage of money that we have to spend on other areas goes up.
Try not to get bogged down in the exact numbers I’m presenting here because I’m simply trying to illustrate a very important point: By reducing the cost of police services, the borough would be able to focus (spend more money) on other areas of service that we provide to our residents.
Just to name a few:
• Better parks and recreation facilities
• Paving of streets
• Support to existing and potential local businesses
This list is certainly not all inclusive, but at least gives you an idea of areas that we could improve upon if we had the extra funds.
I still have questions and doubts about how this regionalized police force would look. I’m sure many of you feel the same. That’s expected. We are early in the process and there is a lot more research and work to do.
The point I’m trying to get across is that we shouldn’t just dismiss this idea as something that’s never going to happen. We should take a hard look and figure out if the proposed structures are something that could help us gain better financial footing while still providing an acceptable level of service.
If the answer is no, then at least we can say did our due diligence on a very important topic.
I encourage you to stay involved in the process and voice your opinion along the way.
-- Benjamin Kapenstein is a member of Middletown Borough Council, representing the Second Ward.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2015 11:52