Official says south police force still possibility

By Linda Seida, Staff Writer
   The formation of a south county police force is still a real possibility despite a recent ruling that struck down the governor’s plan to force small towns to pay for state police protection, according to Lambertville’s mayor.
   Lambertville is one of three municipalities that have undertaken a feasibility study to find out if a joint police force is economically and practically attainable.
   The city has its own force. So, too, does West Amwell Township. But East Amwell Township does not and relies on the state police for coverage.
   If the cost were affordable, such a joint venture would be attractive to towns without their own force because the state had decreed they must begin paying a portion of the tab — $12.6 million of the $87 million cost — for state police services.
   By Dec. 15, they either had to agree to pay their portion in 2009 or have a different arrangement in place to protect their towns.
   East Amwell would have had to pay the state $175,328 a year. Half that amount, for services rendered by state police from July 1 to Dec. 31, would have had to be paid in 2009.
   A ruling last month by the Council on Local Mandates, striking down the governor’s plan to force payment from 89 rural towns, could have made the feasibility study moot.
   But Lambertville Mayor David Del Vecchio said the three communities involved in the study plan to continue.
   ”We’ll go forward, and, ultimately, it will make sense or it won’t,” Mayor Del Vecchio said. “Everyone will judge on how it affects them, which is fine.”
   The study is expected to be completed in December, the mayor said.
   Faced with the loss of significant amounts of state aid earlier this year, communities across the state as well as school districts began looking at ways to save money by sharing services. The study of a south county police force is just one attempt by local officials to rein in spending.
   The state also dangled more than $30 million in grants in front of communities to prompt them pursue such shared ventures. Last month, Lambertville and West Amwell began a joint recycling program that included plastics and cardboard for the first time.
   Also last month, three local school districts joined with Lambertville and West Amwell to form the South County Renewable Energy Co-Op. They hope to present a larger block of buying power to interest solar energy contractors and, ultimately, save money on their electric bills.