Mantua will patrol Wenonah, judge says agreement is valid

Mantua to patrol Wenonah as of June 1 when the borough’s police force is disbanded. Officers from Wenonah able to work in township, desire is unknown at this point.

“We are looking forward to policing Wenonah,” Jennica Bileci, Mantua Township business administrator, said after Superior Court Judge Benjamin Telsey made his ruling on May 30.

Telsey ruled the agreement inked between Mantua and Wenonah complies with the Shared Services Act, something it did not just two weeks prior when Telsey agreed with PBA Local 122, a union representing the police officers, which filed a lawsuit.

The union argued Mantua must absorb all five Wenonah officers with seniority and employment status intact.

Finding the agreement now falls in line with this point, as of midnight, June 1, the Wenonah Police Department no longer will exist; however, each of the five officers from the dissolved force are able to take up employment in the Mantua Township Police Department if they wish.

“If these officers do not appear on Friday, June 1, they will not be accepted in the Mantua Township Police Department. They’ve been asked to appear at 9 a.m. on Friday. That is in compliance with the court’s order,” attorney William Cook, representing Mantua, said before the judge’s ruling.

In response, James Katz, the attorney representing the five Wenonah officers, said “there will undoubtedly be layoffs.”

However, at the time of publication, it was unclear how many officers planned to appear. The Mantua Township Police Department declined comment at this point.

After June 1, all employment decisions will reside with the Mantua Township Police Department.

In an interview after the ruling, Katz said, “The department is being disbanded and officers are trying to make their decisions right now … there is nothing further regarding litigation, we are assuming everyone will comply with the terms of the judge’s order, and we have no reason to believe that won’t happen.”

Bileci stated the judge’s decision allows for the township to continue into the June 18 public hearing on a $14 million budget that offers Mantua residents a zero percent tax increase.

The agreed cost paid by Wenonah to Mantua is a main player in the flat tax rate, according to Bileci. As previously reported, Wenonah will pay Mantua approximately $300,000 for 2018, as this agreement begins five months into the calendar year. Policing services will increase to $550,000 the following year, increasing slightly each year for the 10-year agreement.

Initially, the agreement between the borough and the township did not protect the Wenonah officers and merely required Mantua to hire two officers — not necessarily Wenonah officers — to patrol the less than one square mile area of Wenonah and its approximate 2,250 residents.

According to Wenonah’s 2017 adopted municipal budget, the borough spent $550,000 on police department salaries and wages in 2017.