HONESDALE — Police matters were front and center during Monday's meeting of the Honesdale Borough council.
Two Honesdale officers were promoted to sergeant, there was a discussion about the size of the police force and developing a regional force was also discussed.
Councilman Bob Jennings told members he thinks they should seriously consider hiring two full-time officers in next year's budget.
Jennings said presently, the borough is utilizing part-time officers and some of them are working one or two other jobs, making the roster sometimes hard to fill.
"I feel it is the council's fault that we have to hire part-time officers and not full-time officers," said Jennings, who said "safety" should be the top priority of the council.
Chief Joe LoBasso praised the part-time officers, however, he said it would be much better if the force could have two more full-time officers.
LoBasso said last month, there were 67 shifts filled by part-time officers.
"It creates a big conflict," said the chief. "It is an issue. I would like to have two officers on each shift."
The chief noted that two officers have retired and those positions have not been filled.
Mayor Ed Langendoerfer told members of the council that when he was first elected to serve on council, he was very skeptical of how much of the budget was taken by the police force.
"I was one who looked at the budget," said Langendoerfer. "I thought it was too much."
But since then, the mayor said he's changed his mind.
"Now, I see what's going on," he said.
One of Langendoerfer's main roles as mayor is being a liaison between the police department and the council.
"Once you see what they do, you mindset changes," said Langendoerfer. "It is certainly something we need to discuss."
But councilman Jim Brennan said he thinks the financial considerations have to be a priority.
Page 2 of 4 - "I feel our first obligation is to the taxpayers," said Brennan.
Brennan said as a local business owner, he respects the police highly but also pointed out that if the council wanted to add two officers, it would mean a tax increase.
Brennan said there are many senior citizens on fixed incomes who cannot afford such an increase.
"We need to look at the financial end of this," said council President F.J. Monaghan.
Langendoerfer invited all council members to spend some time at the police station.
"You should stop in and visit the police chief to see what they have to deal with," he said.
LoBasso pointed out that for the past 12 years, the police department had nine full-time officers and "now we are down to seven. It would not be an expansion of the force."
Brennan pointed out there was a possibility of even more cuts to the force earlier this year but thanks to "gracious" offers by two officers to retire, they were able to keep it at the current level.
Scott Smith, chairman of the finance committee, said part of that deal was "some concessions" by the police union for one year plus the fact that to increase the size of the force, they would have to consider "salaries plus benefits."
Langendoerfer said he believes the police force needs to do a better job at getting the word out to the public about just how many cases they are handling.
He cited the recent drugs busts and the many cases of domestic violence as just some of the workload. He also said they have to deal with a wide variety of issues, including "the cat in the tree."
Another police topic which was brought up Monday night was the possibility of regionalization.
Jennings said the subject was brought up recently at a Wayne County Criminal Justice Advisory Board meeting.
Regionalization would be combining efforts of local municipalities and townships.
Page 3 of 4 - "I think this is something the council should at least consider," said Jennings.
"I could certainly see how it would work," said LoBasso.
He said it would take the cooperation of various townships and possibly even the borough of Hawley to make it work.
"Honesdale is an island, it's not connected to anybody," said the chief.
He suggested the council reach out to neighboring townships and "see if they are interested."
Brennan said he's been on the board of the Central Wayne Sewer Authority and "there are a lot more resources" available.
Monaghan said it would be crucial for Texas Township to be involved.
The council asked that information be gathered and a presentation made to members at an upcoming meeting.
In the meantime, they will send letters out to surrounding townships to see if there is an interest.
Also during Monday's meeting, the council voted to promote two officers to sergeants.
Patrolman Ronald Kominski was voted unanimously to be promoted.
He has more than 10 years of experience with the Honesdale Police Department. Kominski has attended more than 30 law enforcement training courses.
He is currently assigned to patrol. Besides patrol, he also performs the following:
• Corrects and approves all department crash reports;
• Administers the domestic violence and other department grants;
• Pennsylvania State Police Assistant Fire Marshal from Feb. 2002 to present.
Det. Sean LeStrange was also promoted by a unanimous vote of the council.
LeStrange has more than 12 years experience with the Honesdale Police Department and has also attended more than 20 law enforcement trainging courses.
He attended Lackawanna College and is working toward an associate's degree in criminal justice.
Page 4 of 4 - LeStrange is currently assigned to criminal investigations. Besides his detective duties, LeStrange also does the following:
• In charge of evidence room;
• Approves crash reports to PennDOT;
• Assists with other department administrative duties.
Both officers have received letters of commendation for outstanding performance while in the line of duty.
"Both officers have demonstrated their willingness to go above and beyond for the citizens of the borough and the police department," said the chief.