Preliminary discussions between O’Hara and Blawnox officials about merging police departments have begun.
The plan so far is to have Blawnox officers become township police and serve under Superintendent Jay Davis, O’Hara Manager Julie Jakubec announced at a workshop meeting Feb. 6.
She repeatedly stressed talks are in the very early stages.
“We had a preliminary discussion with them just to see if, financially, it seemed to make sense,” Jakubec told council. “Preliminarily, it does make sense to combine them into us. The next big question would be pension because you are combining two very different pension plans into one.”
She said it’s too early to share any financial figures, and there needs to be an actuary review before moving forward.
The hope is to have the Blawnox plan cover their current retirees, and other officers to eventually be covered by the township’s plan.
Manpower appears to be the driving force of the discussions.
O’Hara and Blawnox police respond to calls in both towns as part of their mutual aid agreements.
“Hiring police officers right now is very difficult,” Jakubec said. “There are not a lot of people out there. … This just makes sense to see if we can work this out.”
Blawnox has four officers while O’Hara has 15, all full time.
Davis, who supports joining forces, said prior to the meeting he had “very positive” discussions with Blawnox police Chief Patrick Goodman about the idea.
“I’m in favor of moving forward,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense toward sustainability and the overall service we can provide to both communities. There are so many things we have to work out, so many issues.”
Goodman would serve in a to-be-determined administrative role should the merger progress, Jakubec said.
Councilwoman Olivia Payne asked Davis how his officers feel about the possibility of adding Blawnox police to the township department.
“There’s been a lot of talk about it internally,” Davis said. “I think they are good with it. It is an advantage for us as far as staffing and things like that go. I have not heard any negative (feedback) from any of our officers.”
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Council did not take any action on the matter at the workshop meeting.
Payne said afterward she would welcome borough police to O’Hara while council President Cassandra Eccles called the talks “exciting.”
O’Hara officials are expected to approve a conflict of interest waiver for the law firm Campbell Durrant regarding police services. Its attorneys represent both communities.
In an email to TribLive on Feb. 6, Blawnox Mayor Anthony Gross said officers in both communities work very well together. He had no other details on the discussions.
“(There is) much to be determined yet,” Blawnox Council Vice President Randall Stoddard said via message Feb. 7. “We are surrounded by O’Hara. Their officers drive through Blawnox many, many times all day.
“As long as our officers are on board with it, as long as they are taken care of, and as long and Blawnox doesn’t lose any coverage, I think it could work. Financially, it looks like it would benefit Blawnox as well as our officers. I’m interested in seeing where the talks lead.”
Other emergency responder discussions
O’Hara and Blawnox officials also are in talks with their respective fire departments for potential joint recruiting, retention, training and capital purchasing.
Jakubec said it’s not an effort to merge departments like nearby Sharpsburg and Aspinwall.
Fire departments from those two boroughs merged into Southern Allegheny Valley Emergency Services, or SAVES.
Sharpsburg firefighter Mike Daniher was named chief while Aspinwall firefighter J.C. Teyssier was named deputy chief.
A recent fire protection study by the state Governor’s Center for Local Government Services recommends fire departments from Sharpsburg, O’Hara, Blawnox and Aspinwall merge into a regional department.
Daniher was at the O’Hara workshop meeting. He presented council with a copy of SAVES’ bylaws and said they would welcome any department in the Fox Chapel Area School District to join.
“We’re more than happy to meet with anybody,” Daniher said.
O’Hara has two fire departments, Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Company and Parkview Volunteer Fire Department, which also houses the township’s ambulance service provider.
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Former Parkview EMS chief Eric Schmidt asked council why they did not include EMS with their emergency responder discussions.
“Right now, we’re just talking about the fire departments,” Eccles replied.
Schmidt said he wanted to make sure the township had quality EMS service and they were equally represented in the aforementioned discussions.
Blawnox Volunteer Fire Company officials declined to comment.
Calls to Parkview and Pleasant Valley were not returned at press time.
Michael DiVittorio is a TribLive reporter covering general news in Western Pennsylvania, with a penchant for festivals and food. He can be reached at email@example.com.