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Lycoming County Commissioners questioned on emergency gear funds

A Lycoming County resident’s questioning of increased funding for the sheriff’s department created a sometimes heated discussion at Thursday’s commissioners’ meeting.

Chad Riley, of Cogan Township, raised issue with a resolution passed by commissioners earlier this week to fund equipment for law enforcement agencies across the county.

Riley read from a lengthy prepared statement, in which he said in part: “My concern is about the passage of a purchase in the amount of $122,000 for the sheriff’s department to buy riot gear. First and foremost, I’d like to pose the question as to why does the Sheriff’s Department need riot gear and are they statutorily allowed to use riot gear and do crowd control at a public event?”

In the resolution passed by commissioners Tuesday for funding the equipment request, it was noted that a large scale public event could occur in Lycoming County in July.

The neo-Nazi group, National Socialist Movement, had planned a possible march in the city July 18, but most recently decided to cancel that event.

“I am very pleased that they are not coming,” Commissioner Tony Mussare said. “It’s not that we don’t want people to have their First Amendment rights given. In a small community like this we don’t need that tension.”

Riley questioned why the Sheriff’s Department made this funding request when it had already seen its budget increase by $900,000 in the past year.

In addition, he claimed that the department’s budget has tripled in size from $634,000 in the past 11 years. He noted other large budget increases for the district attorney’s office, the Pre-Release Center and prison, and Adult Probation.

“I bring all this to light simply to ask when is the excess spending going to stop? When is the burden of all of these costly expenses going to stop being put on the shoulders of the county’s taxpayers?” he stated.

Commissioner Rick Mirabito told Riley he voted against the resolution for the police equipment.

Sheriff Mark Lusk said the budget increases for his and other departments are not creating more overall county spending.

Rather, it’s transfering funds from other areas of the county budget.

“There is no increase in taxpayer spending,” he said.

He noted that Riley cost the county money in a lawsuit.

Riley and another constable filed suit against Lusk alleging he used his authority to prevent constables from getting any work from the sheriff’s office. The suit was dismissed in both county and federal courts in 2019.

Mirabito said it’s important to note how dramatically the department’s spending has increased.

“We need to concentrate to reduce spending,” he said. “We have to make some changes.”

Metzger said the resolution was needed to protect police.

“We better start respecting our police,” he said.

He noted the equipment was for different law enforcement agencies, not only the Sheriff’s Department.

So far, county officials have not released the specific types of equipment being purchased.

“I have not seen an invoice. I have not seen a list of equipment,” Mirabito said. “The resolution says it’s for personal protection equipment. But does that mean for COVID-19 or something else? There is nothing that can be purchased that shouldn’t be disclosed to the public. We are not talking about nuclear secrets or something that would place people in danger.”

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