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Jenkintown Council Votes to Ask State Agency to Review Borough’s Emergency Services

The Jenkintown police, fire, and EMS departments will all be under review from the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) if the agency signs off on a letter of intent the borough council unanimously approved Wednesday.

The public will benefit from the DCED cost-benefit analysis, said Council Vice President Christian Soltysiak, who made the motion to send the letter to the state.

In February, hundreds of residents turned out to discuss whether to seek to merge the borough’s police department with a neighboring town, or with the state police, to cut costs. Most who spoke out at that meeting strongly objected to the idea of losing the police department, despite what officials say comprises about half of the small town’s $5.1 million budget.

Despite a campaign to recruit more volunteer firefighters that featured yard signs and a banner over Old York Road, having enough firefighters remains an issue. It’s also a statewide issue. A bill from state Rep. Joe Hogan (R-Feasterville) to create a tax credit for firefighters and EMS personnel to help recruit and retain their services remains stalled in the House finance committee.

A few area towns, like Upper Moreland, are trying to meet that challenge by converting to hybrid fire departments, with some paid employees and some volunteers.

Borough Manager George Locke said if the state approves the borough’s request for its services, it will contact officials and arrange a meeting. Once it has completed its study, it will also hold meetings to discuss its findings and recommendations with residents.

“This is a trend across the commonwealth,” said police Chief Thomas Scott. “Police departments are struggling.” Other towns in Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester Counties are also dealing with the issue of how to pay for their police departments, said Scott. “It’s a major issue.”

Abington Commissioners President Tom Hecker confirmed to DVJournal he wrote emails that Jenkintown Matters posted to Facebook saying that he spoke to Council President Jay Conners about whether Abington would agree to provide police services to Jenkintown.

“I was very frank with him and expressed my frustration that there had been public discussion of this without any communication to the Board of Commissioners. I politely but sternly let him know that there was no circumstance under which we would be interested in pursuing this course of action.”

Hecker said it would not be simple for an outside entity to take over the police function. For one thing, the Jenkintown Police union would need to approve it.

Jenkintown Matters member Mark Khusidman told DVJournal that many residents oppose the idea of losing Jenkintown’s police force and oppose regionalization of police services.

Even if the borough saves $500,000 by outsourcing its police, “quantitatively speaking, with an outside police force, trust in the police by members of the community and love for the community by members of the police is something which is difficult to financially quantify,” said Khusidman. “But I think it’s very valuable.”

He noted that the council is reluctant to sell the sewer system for $11 million because sewer rates may go up in the future. But if the police services are outsourced, the costs for that service could also go up, he said. And once Jenkintown no longer had a police force, “I think it would be difficult for us to go back and try to reinstate our own police department.”

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