Posted by Real-Time News.

Portland and Upper Mount Bethel Township are studying how feasible it would be.

Two Slate Belt municipalities would like to determine the feasibility of creating a new regional police department.

Portland and Upper Mount Bethel Township officials have agreed to ask the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development for help to conduct a study regarding a potential joint police force.

This would be separate from the Slate Belt Regional Police Department, which started patrolling Wind GapPen Argyl and Plainfield Township in 2015.

Upper Mount Bethel disbanded its own police department in 1996 and Portland has a police department with five part-time officers, who provide about 80 to 90 hours of coverage per week for the borough.

State police cover the municipalities from the Belfast barracks in Plainfield Township, which are about a half-hour drive to Portland and some parts of Upper Mount Bethel.

This year, Upper Mount Bethel worked out a deal for state police to have an office at the township municipal building.

Upper Mount Bethel Township Supervisors’ Chairman John Bermingham said he appreciates that state troopers are trying to spend more time in the township’s borders but he believes a regional force dedicated to the township should be investigated.

“We want a constant police presence,” Bermingham said.

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Portland Police Chief Robert Mulligan provided a preliminary estimate of $365,000 for a part-time regional department with six officers, which would provide 16 hours of coverage per day in the two municipalities.

In 2014, Upper Mount Bethel Township Supervisor Larry Hallett conducted an informal study, which also included East Bangor. Hallett estimated a regional department would cost about $450,000.

Now, Portland and Upper Mount Bethel officials are asking the state to conduct a study that will provide some hard numbers, so they can understand the logistical and financial implications of a regional police department.

Bermingham said he would be hesitant to begin a regional department if it would mean raising taxes.

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The township pays over $100,000 per year toward a loan from when it purchased the former Eastern Industries property.

Township supervisors recently agreed to purchase the former quarry property with about $900,000 from tax money it has collected over the years that has been designated for open space. That deal would put the property into a conservation easement and free up over $100,000 per year from the township’s budget, since it will no longer be paying off the loan.

Bermingham said he would consider using that freed money to help pay for a regional department. It would be up to the Board of Supervisors as a whole to make those decisions.

Officials also recently voted to seek bids for 24/7 ambulance coverage for both municipalities.

“Our goal is to have an ambulance service in place by January 2018,” Bermingham said.

Votes for the ambulance bids and the police study were unanimous in each municipality except for Upper Mount Bethel Township Supervisor Jerry Geake, who voted against conducting the police study.

John Best is a freelance writer. Find lehighvalleylive on Facebook.