The Centre County Board of Commissioners is drafting a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf and Cl. Tyree Blocker, of the Pennsylvania State Police, expressing concerns about the Philipsburg and Rockview barracks consolidation plan.
During Tuesday’s board meeting, Commissioner Steve Dershem proposed to commissioners Michael Pipe and Mark Higgins the idea of drafting the letter. The board unanimously agreed and the letter will be reviewed at the May 2 board meeting prior to being sent.
On April 4, the commissioners voiced displeasure at their weekly meeting with what they believe are mixed signals coming from Harrisburg about the consolidation plan. Almost three weeks later, the board is still unsure if the consolidation plan is moving forward.
“I don’t know if this is carved in stone and it’s a done deal,” Dershem said. “But I like to think that it isn’t, and I’d like to think that we could have more consideration.”
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On April 6, at a citizen-organized public hearing in Philipsburg, the state police officially announced the consolidation plan. Starting in May, construction will begin on a 16,000-square-foot barracks in Benner Township. The existing Rockview barracks in Milesburg will be decommissioned, the Philipsburg barracks will be repurposed to house administrative staff and troopers from the two barracks, and they will be stationed at the new facility, according to the state police.
At the public hearing, the state police detailed a zone coverage plan that will keep troopers on patrol throughout their shifts. The plan does not require the troopers to return to the new station, which will be the only one in the county. Philipsburg residents and the commissioners have been vocal about what they believe will be a decline in coverage for the Philipsburg area.
“The distance between the new barracks and those areas will compromise the safety of the citizens in that area,” Dershem said. “ It may be OK at first, but what is it going to look like five or 10 years down the road?”
Centre County has the second fastest growing population in the state, according to U.S. Census data, a fact that Higgins said Wolf and the state police should consider when making the decision the close the Philipsburg barracks. The county had three barracks before the Milesburg facility was built.
“We’re down to two and our population has likely doubled since we had three,” Higgins said. “Now we’re down to one.”
The letter will ask the governor to consider funding the Philipsburg barracks in the 2017-18 budget. A similar letter was penned by state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, on April 11, but Corman’s office has not released a response from Harrisburg.
The likelihood of the consolidation plan being reconsidered is low, but reaching out at this point is necessary, according to Dershem.
The commissioners say they will provide an update on the letter and a response in the coming weeks.