SEVEN FIELDS — Borough Council President Jack Oakley said his municipality has “taken it on the chin” from Cranberry Township in regards to a police services contract dispute. He added the borough will look elsewhere for police coverage when its contract expires.
Oakley criticized the way officials in Cranberry handled the matter, and said at one point they even tried to persuade Seven Fields to merge and become part of the township.
The dispute started several months ago when Seven Fields asked to be released early from the contract, which dictates the cost and terms of Cranberry providing police services to the small borough.
The contract expires at the end of 2014, although Seven Fields must notify Cranberry at the end of 2013 about its intent of either extending or abandoning the deal.
Under the agreement, Seven Fields will pay Cranberry $337,074 this year. That amount is expected to grow to about $400,000 by 2016.
Oakley railed against those figures and said Seven Fields residents are paying an “exorbitant amount of money for the services we require.”
The council president said he knows that Seven Fields signed the contract, and added the borough will abide by the terms. But that doesn’t mean they’re happy about the way the discussions unfolded.
“I think the police themselves do an excellent job,” Oakley said. “No one here would say they haven’t done a good job.
“But I think the management of the police department has not done a good job in facilitating a good customer service relationship.”
Oakley said Seven Fields pursued a regional police force agreement with Evans City only after Cranberry officials gave their blessings to the idea.
“The bottom line is that we invited them over to discuss the contract,” Oakley said. “We were greeted with a response of, ‘If you don’t like what you’ve got, go somewhere else.’ So we asked if we could get out of the contract early, and they gave us a positive yes. So we pursued it.”
Oakley said Cranberry officials told him the township is subsidizing the cost of police service for Seven Fields, which means that it costs the township more money to cover the borough than it takes in from the contract.
However, Oakley said that statement changed two weeks ago when Cranberry officials told the borough it would not release it from the contract because it needed the revenue Seven Fields pays.
Added to the contentious debate were statements Oakley said were made by Cranberry officials regarding Seven Fields again becoming part of the township.
Oakley called that assertion “very insulting” and said it did nothing to facilitate a mediation of the dispute.
Bruce Mazzoni, chairman of the Cranberry Township supervisors, countered Oakley’s statement and said merging the two communities wasn’t once brought up in the contract discussions.
“That was never even a conversation,” he said. “There was no discussion on that, and it wasn’t even something that was brought up. I don’t even know where he is coming from on that standpoint.”
The chairman also said Seven Fields began pursuing other police options before alerting Cranberry of its intentions, which is different from Oakley’s assertion that Cranberry gave the go-ahead before any action was taken.
“We never even received a formal proposal,” he said. “We were getting all of our news from the newspaper. The point is, they obviously did a lot of research even before they came to us. I don’t know where he comes off making that statement.”
Mazzoni also said he was “shocked” that Oakley decided to air his grievances in such a public manner, and added that the conversation would have been better suited to be done in private.
In regards to the contentious contract discussions, Mazzoni said Cranberry’s decision boiled down to one simple concept.
“We have money coming in to us, and I told Jack personally that it’s a business decision,” he said. “There’s no way, even though we have a friendship between neighbors, that we could justify terminating the contract early with that kind of money coming to us in the next two years.”
He also denied the statement that Cranberry subsidizes the cost of service for Seven Fields, although he added the township is close to doing so.
Cranberry manager Jerry Andree backed Mazzoni’s comments and said he, too, doesn’t remember once bringing up the topic of the two municipalities merging.
“Jack can say whatever he feels he needs to say,” Andree said. “I think he’s taking some things out of context. We have 19 years with a great relationship in that contract, and obviously they want to go in a different direction.
“But they’ve shown no reason as to why our board should end the contract prematurely.”