Thursday, June 12, 2014
Lower Nazareth Decides To Keep Colonial Regional
Middle row, from Left to Right: Solicitor Gary Asteak; Manager Timm Tenges; and Chair Eric "Rick" Nagle.
Bottom row: Gerald Green; Martin Boucher; and "Back to the '80s" sign).
After seven months of uncertainty, Lower Nazareth Supervisors last night ended their threatened breakaway from the Colonial Regional Police Department. This decision came during a meeting at Lower Nazareth Elementary School, before an audience of about 170. Supervisors sat below two signs. One of them read, "Welcome to the Wonderful World of Lower Nazareth." The other, prepared by the third grade, read, "Back to the '80s."
Despite the signs, the Wonderful World of Lower Nazareth has decided not to go back to the '80s.
The Colonial Regional Police Force, first formed in 1995 as one of the area's first regional police departments, currently serves Hanover and Lower Nazareth Townships, as well as Bath Borough. But last year, Lower Nazareth rejected this year's $3.39 million proposed police budget. This operated as a notice of intent to withdraw in a year if the problems remain unresolved. If unable to come to terms by July 1, Lower Nazareth would have no choice but to go it alone, starting in January.
It looked like a long night was ahead. But before hearing from anyone in the audience, Supervisor James Pennington moved to rescind the notice of intent to withdraw and accept this year's police budget. Pennington had previously backed Nagle's stated desire to go it alone, if necessary, but had a change of heart.
After the meeting, he explained. Opening a folder, he showed sheet after sheet of pros and cons he was ticking off, both with respect to the regional force and a go-it-alone department. He said he kept going back and forth, but what really changed his mind is walking his dog, believe it or not, although it is not his dog who convinced him.
Pennington walks his dog twice a day, and during these jaunts, he speaks to a lot of residents. They were concerned about losing Colonial Regional. One of the neighbors he spoke to is former Northampton County Sheriff Jeff Hawbecker, who is also a former state trooper. Hawbecker started the process that led to Northampton County's Sheriff's department being one of just two departments statewide that are accredited..
To his credit, Pennington listened to what he was told, and took it to heart.
Pennington's motion was quickly seconded by Supervisor Martin Boucher, who has supported Colonial Regional from the start.
All this appeared to take Supervisor Robert "Pappy" Kuscan by surprise, and when he realized what was going on, he exploded.
"Do you realize we're going to have to raise taxes?" he exclaimed in a voice that needed no microphone. He went on to discuss the costs and then, referring to the audience, said, "These people don't know what's happening?"
"I think they do know what's going on," disagreed Boucher. "That's why they're here."
Kuscan continued to blow oil, discussing the merits of a police department with a station right by the municipal building.
"A station right next to the baseball field?" asked Boucher, referring to the large number of athletic fields next to the municipal building at which children play baseball, soccer and football.
"Absolutely!" thundered Kuscan.
"What, are you cRraZy?" asked Boucher.
At this point, Chairman Eric Nagle ended the exchange. It was getting argumentative, and worse, Kucsan was losing.
Nagle then repeated the arguments he's been making all along. He acknowledged that he's on record as calling Colonial Regional a "great department" (he's actually on record as calling it the "best in the state"), but said the funding formula for the regional force is disadvantageous to Lower Nazareth residents, who pay more for police protection than their counterparts in Hanover and Bath.
He acknowledged that the budget increases are small, in the area of just 5%, but "that could be a 9 or 10% increase on us."
He concluded that for $250,000 less than what it is paying now, Lower Nazareth could have its own force.
Kucsan continued to blow oil, now claiming that Hanover and Bath get together and outvote them. "We have less township people and we're paying a lot more money than they are. ... That's not fair."
But Boucher countered that, if anything, Lower Nazareth is ahead of the others. Lower Nazareth pays 35% of the budget, but receives 37% of the service. He added that a solo police department would actually end up being more expensive.
Supervisor Gerald Green voted to join Pennington and Boucher in rescinding the notice of intent to withdraw and accepting this year's budget. Kucsan and Nagle voted No.
The room burst into applause, erasing any doubt about where they stood on this issue.
Though he voted against Nagle, Green defended him to the audience, arguing that Nagle is motivated by the "best interests of the township" and "did his homework."
Very classy. Maybe Lower Nazareth really is a wonderful world.
Colonial Chief Roy Seiple was obviously happy, and addressed the Board and the audience. "Some of you maybe I've arrested. Sorry for that," he joked. He thanked Supervisors for looking at the police study objectively and making the "correct" decision.
Hanover Township Manager Jay Finnigan was there, and after the meeting, had this comment: "I believe the Board of Supervisors in Lower Nazareth Township took the appropriate action in supporting one of the strongest police forces in the Lehigh Valley. The officers provide all municipalities outstanding service committed to the residents in each municipality."