By Richard L. Gaw
On an evening when it approved its 2014 budget, the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors also began to peer into the looking glass of its future; specifically, conceptualizing the notion of expanding the physical plant of its own police department.
During the course of a busy agenda at its Dec. 16 meeting, the board officially adopted the township's budget for next year, which totals $4,673,100, more than a $200,000 jump from its $4.43 million budget in 2013. Wedged into the meeting, however, out-going supervisor Bob Norris and New Garden Township Police Chief Gerald Simpson shared findings taken during their two-month needs analysis to determine the long-term needs for the township's police department. As part of the study, Norris and Simpson conducted a tour of six similar police departments, a study that found New Garden's police to be lagging behind many of its neighboring colleagues in the size of its physical plant, in its number of employees, and in its annual budget.
From September through October, Norris and Simpson toured police facilities in Willistown; East Brandywine; Oxford; the combined police department in Westtown, E. Goshen and Thornbury (WEGO); as well as the Smyrna an New Castle City police facilities in Delaware – all chosen on the basis of their basic similarity to New Garden's police department.
The study, Norris said, was intended “to put an answer to the ultimate decision for New Garden, in a way that will represent New Garden, in a way that we want to be represented,” he said. “We tried to go into this objectively, to start from where we are, without any baggage, to ask, 'What's the best thing long-term for New Garden?'
A comparative summary of their research revealed that the annual budget for the New Garden Police stands at $4.6 million, less than any of the other stations with the exception of Oxford's, which has a $3.4 annual budget. New Garden also has the lowest number of employees – a total of 12 – but fields more annual phone calls for service – 6,700 on the average per year – than any other force in the study except for WEGO and Smyrna.
In terms of the square footage of its current facility – now a set of three single-block trailers on Route 41, arranged because severe mold problems forced the department to shut down its station in the township earlier this year – New Garden currently uses 2,160 square feet of space, by far the smallest of the other six forces in the study. In comparison, the facility in New Castle City is 10,000 square feet, while the facility in Smyrna – currently under renovation and expected to be completed in two years – will be more than 26,000 square feet in size.
Much of the square footage used at the other police departments demonstrated a clear division of purpose, they said. The design of these departments are a conglomeration of emergency operation centers, public space, meeting and training rooms, as well as “hard” space – areas at police stations reserved for cells, prisoner transportation, as well as drug and contraband collection and storage.
Whether or not the formal interpretation of this study and analysis – which the supervisors later authorized unanimously, at an estimated cost of $30,000 – will lead to a new facility will be dependent on when the project could be built and completed, and deciding on a location.
Many of these police facilities, Norris and Simpson said, have recently undergone either renovations or new construction, and that the average time needed to complete these new facilities was just under three years. Norris said that regardless of what direction New Garden wants to go, he estimated that a new facility would not be completed until the end of 2016, an more likely in 2017.
In recent years, the township has engaged in a continuing conversation among its leaders, its police department and its citizens about the possibility of making the lower level of the Township Building on Starr Road a permanent location for the township police. Although he said that the township building is “certainly on the table, and should be considered” as a potential site, Norris said that the square footage of the lower level of the township building is a little less than 4,000 square feet, still much smaller than any other police department in the analysis.
“It may have been built for a police department but it certainly wasn't constructed with a police department in terms of the types of construction you need , such as bringing prisoners in and jail cells or car ports to bring prisoners in,” he said.
Simpson said that first on the agenda will be to develop a needs assessment for the next 20 years, created by a professional police facility firm, who he said would be best suited to draw up what the department needs, “so that when township residents invest those dollars, that they're invested on really good information,” he said. “They will tell us what that department will look like. They will tell us what that square footage will look like. I think it's fair to have that kind of analysis done.
“Planning is key,” Simpson added. “It's hard to understand your needs unless you have someone come in objectively. Those companies will do that research and all of the things necessary so that we don't misuse the township's dollars.”
Although the percentage of the township's annual budget – now at 37 percent – is dedicated to operate the police department, some in the township have questioned whether that's too high a high cost to pay for a full-time police service. “You can knock that figure down, but if you want it, you have to pay for it,” Norris said. “We have a police department, so the question is, “Do we want to support a professional police department, or do we want Barney and Andy to be our police department?'”
The full report of Norris and Simpson's initial study is expected to be completed in January.
In other news related to the New Garden Police, the township voted to approve a police collective bargaining agreement with the New Garden Policeman’s Association that will retain its current police force from 2014 to 2018, a five-year term. The motion passed, unanimously. Norris then made a motion to authorize a permanent, 24-hour, seven-days-a-week police coverage for New Garden. The motion passed 4-1, with only supervisor Bob Perrotti voting in opposition of the motion.
“This is being rushed through. This is not a decision that we should make,” Perrotti said, who stressed that the decision regarding police coverage should fall to the new supervisory board, which will be joined by new supervisors Richard Ayotte, Randy Geouque and J. Richard Little, who were elected in November and will replace Perrotti, Norris and Scilla on the board in January.
Simpson said that the department has completed its move from its former facility to its new location into trailers that are positioned adjacent to the old facility. Simpson said that the department has no plans to move back to the original building.