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HARPERS FERRY – Budding negotiations over whether the neighboring towns of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar might return to sharing costs for police service are continuing.

Harpers Ferry officials formed an informal committee last week to focus on addressing questions and concerns from Bolivar officials over the matter.

“We as a town are trying to re-engage a business that we lost, an opportunity that we lost,” said Harpers Ferry Councilwoman Nancy Case. “And what I haven’t seen in any of the exchanges [between the towns] was asking Bolivar what they want, what their needs are, and I would really like to see the conversation re-approached in that manner.”

“When you sell anything your first rule of thumb is to listen to them and listen to what they want and what they need,” she added. “So I would hope that we can do that.”

Bolivar has a population about three times the size of Harpers Ferry’s 300 residents, Harpers Ferry Councilman Jay Premack pointed out. So Bolivar residents likely want to know, he said, whether Harpers Ferry’s police department will be accountable to Bolivar residents.

“Those are very valid questions from them,” Premack said of questions Bolivar officials would have. “Maybe that’s a follow-up conversation after we go through and address their questions.”

Harpers Ferry Mayor Wayne Bishop said town officials could try to schedule a discussion with Bolivar officials at their next regular council meeting on October 6.

Meanwhile, Bolivar council members scheduled a special meeting Wednesday evening to discuss, in part, a concept plan for possibly obtaining additional police services from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

Last winter, Bolivar officials said they would be open to evaluating anew its police service options — including whether to pay Harpers Ferry for some level of public safety services.

Bolivar currently pays the county $80,000 a year for safety patrols by county deputies who also conduct patrols and respond to public safety service calls outside the county’s five municipalities.

Bolivar’s annual contract for the sheriff’s department to provide the town’s current public safety service ends June 30.

About five years ago, Bolivar paid Harpers Ferry more than twice that amount to help support its police department, which now operates with three full-time officers and two part-time officers.

A Harpers Ferry administrator said Bolivar last paid approximately $140,000 a year to support Harpers Ferry’s police force.

On Monday, Harpers Ferry police Chief John Brown reminded officials that Harpers Ferry’s officers still respond to emergency calls whenever asked. “So they are still getting service from us as we speak because a lot of times we will be the first running unit on an incident in Bolivar,” he said.

With a $500,000 approximate budget, Harpers Ferry’s police department employs three full-time officers and two part-time officers on duty nearly 24 hours a day. The Sheriff’s Office operates with about 40 deputies responding to traffic enforcement and public safety calls serving an approximate population approaching 60,000 residents in Jefferson County 24 hours a day.

Harpers Ferry Councilman Christian Pechuekonis, the town’s finance committee chairman, said the town’s police force might need to add one or two police officers to extend full-time public safety patrols across Bolivar.  

Last winter, Harpers Ferry officials initiated a conversation over whether Bolivar might re-evaluate its current police service arrangement. Several Bolivar leaders said they wanted more information from both Harpers Ferry and Sheriff Pete Dougherty before they could make any decision.

Bolivar Mayor Helen Dettmer said she also wanted the political turmoil over Harpers Ferry’s contested election to resolve before the towns negotiated any possible police force arrangement. The election results were resolved in July, more than a year after the election occurred in June 2019.

But it was Councilwoman Sandi Marra who was the first Bolivar council member to first directly address personal dynamics several said were hindering more shared endeavors between the two towns.

“I do have some heartburn about going into any kind of arrangement right now with the current government of Harpers Ferry,” Marra said. “I find it slightly disingenuous that [Harpers Ferry officials] want to partner with Bolivar in this, but when Bolivar has been very clear in where we thought we see partnering as important with other issues facing Harpers Ferry, we’re kind of told, ‘Well, you don’t live in Harpers Ferry. You don’t have any say.’”

“So that’s going to be part of my process through this as well,” she added. “Either we really are a partner in everything and our voice does count, or we’re not.”

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