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Bath’s Spending Problem Has Nothing To Do With Police Protection

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Over the weekend, there actually was a town hall without a Congressman. Close to 70 Bath residents braved a rainy Saturday morning to meet at Social Hall, guzzling coffee and munching Dunkin’ Donuts. They were there to discuss Bath’s continued participation in Colonial Regional Police Department (CRPD). “This place should be packed,” complained State Representative Marica Hahn. But to draw 70 people for a weekend meeting about government in a tiny borough of just 2,700 people, is pretty remarkable. At the front of the room was a 15-person police advisory commission, who have been studying CRPD’s future in Bath for several months. At the rear were several police officers, along with Chief Roy Seiple, who will be directly impacted by that decision. It’s a question of money. It’s also a question of public safety.

CPRD, first formed in 1995, is a regional police department that covers Hanover and Lower Nazareth Tp, along with Bath. In 2001, it became the first regional police department in the state to become accredited. It includes 24 police officers. Civilian oversight is provided by a six-person commission, with two members from each of the member municipalities.

Bath has been around a bit longer than CPRD. Settled in 1728, it’s a borough consisting of 0.9 square miles and a $1.8 million budget. According to the state Department of Community and Economic Development, it is at least $1 million in debt, with much of that money ($380,000) having been borrowed in just the last year. Its 2017 budget includes nearly $128,000 in debt service. It is nearing its debt limit. Some of the reasons can be gleaned from Borough Manager Bradford Flynn’s 2017 Budget Message:

  1. Last year, the Borough decided to purchase the “Thirst Quenchers” building to serve as a new municipal center. That alone will cost $425,000, to say nothing of at least $250,000 in renovations that will follow. 
  2. Legal fees in a borough that serves just 2,700 people have doubled. Forty-one thousand dollars have been budgeted for this year. With a straight face, Borough Manager Brad Flynn justifies this so that the borough can catch up on its codifications. 
  3. In the course of one year, Bath’s three-person public works department resigned, and now borough officials are dealing for the first time with a union.

It’s a borough with both a spending and a morale problem. Flynn’s solution is to dump the one thing the borough appears to be doing well, i.e. protecting the public. He wants to eliminate the CRPD. A manager who thought nothing of borrowing near the limit and who didn’t blink an eye when legal fees doubled, was very incensed that the cost of police coverage went up five percent, from $398,000.00 in 2016 to $416,000.00 in 2017. “This increase in cost will prompt upcoming discussions with the Colonial Regional Police Commission about the Borough’s seat at the table and to what future extent,” he huffed, in his October 2016 budget message.

Repeated assurances were made on Saturday that “Nothing has been decided.” That’s window dressing. Flynn’s October 2016 Budget Message tells a much different story. It is he, a person who wants to rid the borough of its police protection, who then prepared the “informational” packet that even criticizes CRPD for its “Shop with Cops” program.

Mayor Fiorella Mirabito called CRPD “top notch” and appears to be one person who wants them to stay. But she has no say in this matter, unless there’s a tie.

Borough officials claim they’ve made no decision, either, and then refused to allow Chief Seiple and other CRPD officers to refute the findings in Flynn’s so-called “informational” packet. Seiple and others complained that opinions were mislabeled as facts, and facts were misrepresented. As things would get heated, one or another member of the panel would stand up and repeatedly state how much they want to hear from the public.

The longest speeches in a meeting that was ostensibly set up to hear from the public, of course, came from members of the advisory commission. Attorney Beth Beers went on at length. “If we truly believe that we need to go to a different service because we can afford that, it’s because we believe we will have the correct and appropriate police service for the Borough of Bath.”

Beers insisted that they were not looking for a bargain, though the “informational” packet makes clear that is precisely what they are doing.Moore Tp can provide police protection at a cheaper price with a department that has less manpower and is not accredited. The state police will do it for nothing, if you don’t mind waiting an hour for them to respond to a complaint about someone looking in your window.

Most of these harangues would follow a statement by a Bath resident expressing concern about public safety. At least half of those at this meeting appeared to support CRPD.

After Flynn suggested that Bath has no drug problem, a woman named Helen said that “where I live, drugs are a problem. We’ve had drug busts right across the street from us.”

“Do you know how many meth labs were busted on Old Forge over the last two years?”asked one gentleman.

Another asked borough officials whether they have considered allowing themselves to be swallowed up by a government that can provide public safety. A borough that claims to be on the brink of financial disaster and wants to shed its police department has not even considered that possibility.

Chief Seiple noted that Bath pays about 12% of the CRPD budget and gets about 15% of the services. Though borough officials attempted to shut him down, he was plainly irritated at how “Shop with Cops” was misrepresented by Flynn.

“‘Shop with Cops’ is a program where we solicit donations for underprivileged children within our three jurisdictions to provide them with a Christmas. We give them each $500 and pick them up and go out to Wal Mart. That’s a heckuva’ program. Eighty per cent, if you want a number, of the kids we pick up for this program are from the Borough of Bath.”

As Bath officials should know, truck traffic in the Lehigh Valley and Bath is expected to double over the next ten years. Like it or not, and it’s mostly not, the big boxes cometh. Under these conditions, it would be sheer lunacy for the borough to rid itself of a police department that actually is certified to do truck safety inspections

In January, a bank robber in downtown Bath was apprehended by CRPD within a mile of his crime. How long would it take state police to respond? Or Moore Tp?

Instead of shedding CRPD, Borough Council might want to consider eliminating what appears to be its real problem, a spend-happy borough manager who hopes to solve this problem by eliminating CRPD and replacing it with … whatever. He could them participate himself in “Shop with Cops,” but does not live in Bath.

This discussion will continue this evening when the Colonial Regional Police Commission meets at 7 pm.

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