SHARON Council to study police merger

Sharon's mayor adamantly opposes a merger.
HERMITAGE, Pa. -- Despite differences of opinion, Sharon City Council will take a closer look at a suggestion that Sharon and Southwest Mercer County Regional Police departments consider a merger.
The overture came from the regional police commission, which oversees the department serving Farrell, Wheatland and West Middlesex.
James DeCapua, commission chairman, said the impending retirement of his department's chief and three part-time officer vacancies make this an ideal time to consider a merger. The department has 16 full-time and eight part-time slots. Sharon has 30 officers.
The two departments spent a total of nearly $3.3 million on police services in 2001, but a combined operation could pare that number to below $3 million without laying off any personnel, he said.
He conducted an informal meeting Wednesday in the Mercer County Council of Government offices in Hermitage between Sharon council, some members of Farrell City Council and members of the police commission to gauge Sharon's receptiveness.
What mayor said
Sharon Mayor David O. Ryan made his feelings clear.
"I'm not in favor of this," he said, adding he doesn't like the idea of a department run by a commission.
The main idea of police work is to provide services, not save money, Ryan said, stressing he prefers to keep Sharon's department the way it is.
Farrell Councilwoman Helen Marenchin asked if that opinion would stand if a merger showed financial savings.
"Savings don't figure into police work," replied Ryan, a former Sharon police chief.
He got backing from his chief, Thomas Burke. "I speak for 30 officers who feel the same way," Burke said.
Some Sharon council members felt otherwise.
"What I'm interested in is saving money," said Lou Rotunno. If a joint department could cut that $3 million operating cost by 20 percent, it might be worth looking at, he said.
Council President Fred Hoffman said everyone wants to keep Sharon's department the way it is, "but I don't think we can anymore. I think we owe it to the citizens to look at it."
What's ahead
Sharon Councilmen Ray Fabian and George Gulla said the discussion is premature in that Sharon, Farrell, Hermitage, Wheatland and Sharpsville are looking at a possible municipal consolidation vote in November 2003.
If passed, the departments would merge anyway, they said.
However, they said they have no objections to looking at numbers for a merged department now.
Sharon Councilwoman Chris Outrakis was noncommittal, refusing to express any opinion.
Hoffman said it will be put on council's September workshop agenda.

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