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Interesting Story From The Wall Street Journal

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Old 03-04-2005, 05:50 PM
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Default Interesting Story From The Wall Street Journal

Young Police Chief
Drives Hard Bargain
In Donegal, Pa.

Ethan Ward Pinches Pennies,
And Folks Appreciate It;
His 10 Weeks Without Pay
By KRIS MAHER
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
March 4, 2005; Page A1

DONEGAL, Pa. -- Ethan Ward, the 33-year-old police chief of this tiny township on the West Virginia line (pop. 2,428), sits in a cramped office with a single overhead fluorescent light and employs one of the most powerful crime-fighting tactics at his disposal: bargain-hunting.

In these fiscally austere times, cities and states could learn some lessons from Mr. Ward. A passionate opponent of government waste, Mr. Ward manages to run a three-man police force on an annual budget from the township of $88,000, which covers everything from pay and health-care benefits to uniforms, ammunition and printer paper.

When not on patrol, Mr. Ward, who makes $13.64 an hour, scours the Internet for budget-stretching discounts and grants. Mr. Ward purchased $3,500 Vascar timing devices, for catching speeders, on eBay for $100. He snagged Panasonic Toughbook laptops from the site for $150 each, instead of $3,200. Rather than buy a 2000 Ford Crown Victoria from the U.S. General Services Administration for $7,000, he drove two hours to a West Virginia auction and bought the same model, with the same mileage, for $4,500.


On a recent trip to a conference in Washington, he turned down a hotel room at the $109 government rate and booked another room at the same hotel when he found an Internet rate of $68. The police department gets free Internet service through a National Center for Rural Law Enforcement program Mr. Ward discovered.

"He does quite a bit with his budget," says Sgt. Richard Horner, of the North Franklin Township police department about eight miles to the east. The budget for North Franklin's 11-person police department, which serves roughly twice the population of Donegal in a much smaller area, is about $579,000, according to township administrator Scott Novak.

About the only things Mr. Ward pays full price for are bulletproof vests, radios and sirens, and even then he tries to buy them with state and federal grant money. Last year, he got five grants for equipment and training totaling $90,000, which more than doubled his township budget. As federal budget cuts trickle down to municipalities, Mr. Ward expects less. "I had hopes for another full-time officer through the [federal] COPS program, and it isn't going to happen now," he says.

Mr. Ward, who is single, grew up and lived in a small town called Prosperity before moving seven miles to Donegal when he was about 23. After high school, he worked for about a year as a welder for a steel company near Pittsburgh and did a six-month stint as a greens attendant at a country club. "I didn't take too well to that," he says. "I'm used to driving on dirt roads, and they're used to driving on paved roads."

Working part-time as a constable serving warrants in the Donegal area, a job he took when he was 20, was his first taste of police work and gave his life direction. He says he served 1,000 warrants one year.

Average household income in Donegal is just $38,000. Some residents work in nearby steel-fabricating shops and a coal mine. Beef and dairy farms are spread across the township's rolling hills. But the area has been hurt by steel plant closings and other declines in manufacturing. Joe Daugherty, who at 93 is the township's oldest resident, says the area "has been on the downhill for the last 50 years."

Last fall, when heavy rains from Hurricane Ivan wiped out many of the township's roads and its entire budget, Mr. Ward persuaded other officials to let him go without pay for 10 weeks, until funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived, to avoid layoffs. "There was no way to make payroll," says township secretary Bess Hildreth. As the township shored up washed-out roads, it incurred $93,000 in expenses and was forced to lay off two road-department workers. It would have turned to the police department next, says Ms. Hildreth, if not for Mr. Ward forgoing his pay. "That saved me," says Sgt. Max Oravetz, 27, the department's other full-time officer. The third member of the force works part time.

Mr. Ward got by living off stock dividends and selling beef from his farm. He also recently helped save the township money by finding cheaper health insurance for himself.

Donegal doesn't have a jail. Handcuffs dangling from a desk in Mr. Ward's office hold prisoners when necessary -- which isn't often. His department, which operates out of the green municipal building alongside Interstate 70, didn't handle any homicides, rapes or assaults last year, but there were 88 thefts, four burglaries and 230 traffic violations.

Mr. Ward's current project is trying to end a bad-check epidemic. Tim Byers, who owns Byers Market on Main Street, says about $1,200 in bad checks have been passed at his store over the past three months. "He's my only hope because I don't know if the state police are going to think it's a big-enough problem," says Mr. Byers.

Being popular in a small town has its downside. Mr. Ward gets several calls a week at home from residents asking him to intervene in everything from domestic disputes to a neighbor's dog wandering onto someone's property. One recent Friday evening, when Mr. Ward was off duty, he was called about a married couple having a loud argument. He spent an hour and a half on the phone with them, trying to calm them down.

Though he says he has had job offers that would have tripled his pay, Mr. Ward says he won't leave the township. "I got 10 pounds of fudge for Christmas," Mr. Ward says. "I couldn't tell you how good people are to me."

Write to Kris Maher at [email protected]
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Old 03-05-2005, 02:08 AM
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Default Re: Interesting Story From The Wall Street Journal

Just read that story today
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