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Isn’t contracting out police similar to hated Suez deal?: Editorial

Posted 11/12/19
We aren’t quite sure where Middletown Mayor James H. Curry III is going with contracting out police services. We asked him for more details, and he didn’t respond. He recently asked …

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Isn’t contracting out police similar to hated Suez deal?: Editorial

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We aren’t quite sure where Middletown Mayor James H. Curry III is going with contracting out police services.

We asked him for more details, and he didn’t respond.

He recently asked Middletown Borough Council in 2020 to consider contracting out police services with another municipality in order to “solve the financial issues for the borough long term.”

What financial issues?

The borough expects to end 2019 with a general fund budget surplus of about $900,000. It has money squirreled away in several funds. We always support having money for a rainy day, but the sky is pretty sunny at the moment.

During public comments, Curry did specify a couple of areas where borough money is being targeted, so let’s take a look at them.

• He targeted as No. 1 “crippling” increases in water and sewer rates being imposed by Suez, the private company that runs the borough’s water and sewer systems under a 50-year lease that started in January 2015.

Those rates do seem to be increasing. However, unless the borough plans on paying those increases on behalf of the rate payers (the residents, businesses and other customers in Middletown), then that’s not really a financial hit to the borough. Those rates don’t come out of the borough’s coffers, they come out of rate payers’ pockets.

• The electric fund revenue the borough depends on to balance the general fund budget each year without raising taxes is under siege, Curry claimed, because in Harrisburg, state lawmakers are introducing bills that would subject the electric revenue to a 6 percent tax.

OK. We won’t argue with that. While 6 percent is not insignificant, it’s also not devastating. Introduction of a bill does not necessarily mean it will become law.

• Librandi Machine Shop near Harrisburg International Airport is continuing its multi-year legal fight to switch its electricity provider from the borough to Met-Ed. If Librandi wins, the loss of about $200,000 the company pays the borough in electric revenue will be just the beginning, Curry asserted. Virtually every major commercial and industrial customer in Middletown will seek to choose from whom they buy power, and if the borough contests these lawsuits, it will lose, the mayor also claimed.

We have trouble buying this one. When reading the court filings in this case, it becomes clear that Librandi has several unique situations — including the fact that it’s almost on the Middletown-Lower Swatara Township line — that makes it unlikely other businesses entirely within the borough will have legal grounds to try to change electricity providers. Also, if Librandi wins its case (which we see as unlikely), it will be a hit, but it will also change the amount of electricity the borough will need to buy in future years. There will be a loss, but will it be devastating?

We also respect the need for capital improvement projects. Public Works Director Greg Wilsbach has been making requests for years.

So let’s switch and look at the police end of things.

We find it ironic that the borough is fighting tooth and nail against the Suez water and sewer lease because it gave away control of a key borough asset.

Isn’t contracting out police services doing the same thing? The borough would be ridding itself of an asset and losing control of how it is run. Losing control … doesn’t that sound like the Suez deal that the borough has spent thousands of dollars to fight? Won’t it handcuff future mayors and councils, just as this current mayor and council apparently feel that the Suez deal did?

We don’t know what contracting out might look like. A regional police force? Dissolving the current force? Council member Robert Reid, a former mayor, told the Press & Journal his support of something like a regional police force would be conditional on a guarantee that all borough officers, full- and part-time, would be hired on the regional force. Being hired is one thing. What about benefits? Would they lose seniority? Would their retirement be affected?

We are not against looking at the future of Middletown’s police force. But there are many, many questions to answer before we get to that point.

Curry said during an Oct. 22 meeting that a deal with Steelton regarding police would have saved the borough nearly $1 million. We are very curious how that would have worked.

And remember. Nothing comes for free. To save $1 million, the borough will have to give up something. Quality of coverage? Number of officers patrolling? Residents, businesses and our first responders need answers. Let’s hope for transparency when these potential discussions are held, whenever that might be.