Police costs ‘a budget breaker’ for local municipalities
For the past few years, Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed subsidizing the costs for state police coverage through the municipalities that rely on it for full-time protection, and this year, he wants to use a sliding scale to do it.
In the past, Wolf’s proposed $25 per capita fee for all municipalities was criticized by smaller townships and boroughs, who saw it not only as unfair, but as an economic strain.
This time around, Wolf’s 2019 budget proposal, unveiled last week, scraps that flat fee in favor of a sliding scale. The rate is determined by population size, ranging from $8 per capita for municipalities with fewer that 2,000 people, to $166 for those with over 20,000.
For small communities like Parryville in Carbon County, with a population of just over 500, that would mean a per capita rate of $8, adding up to a total estimated cost of $4,096, according to a database on PennLive’s website.
On the opposite end of the scale are larger municipalities like Chestnuthill in Monroe County. With a population size totaling more than 16,000, Chestnuthill could be hit with a per capita rate of $133, which equates to an estimated annual expenditure of $2,225,356.
“It’s hard to get a handle on it (the issue) this early in the conversation, because until it goes through the entire process in Harrisburg, you don’t know that if what’s proposed is actually how it’s going to look,” Carl Gould, chair of the Chestnuthill Board of Supervisors, said.
“We’ve historically in this township looked at what it would cost for our own department, which at least up till now, has been cost prohibitive.”
To Gould, the proposal is still “a moving target that you really can’t get a handle on yet,” so it’s difficult to say exactly how the township would adapt if it were implemented.
But with an annual operating budget of $5 million, he added, the fee would take a large toll on the services provided by the township.
“We have nothing but high praise for the state police,” Gould said. “They’ve served this township well. … But there’s only so much to go around, and you can only go to the same well so many times.”
East Penn Township maintained its own part-time police force until 2016, when it was disbanded after residents voiced that they wanted the money put toward the roads instead, East Penn Board of Supervisors Chair William Schwab said.
“And we have,” Schwab said. “Over 21 miles of road have been remediated in the last three years.”
Under Wolf’s proposal, the township may have to redirect those funds to an estimated $48,977 annual expense, which Schwab said will either deter from the township’s ability to maintain its roads, or in a tax for residents.
“That’s unbudgeted, which means that much less for roads, that much less for providing direct services to our township residents” Schwab said.
“We don’t have extra money in our operations. Literally there’s no place else other than (a) tax increase to come up with the kind of money (Wolf’s) talking about.”
If enacted, the fee would raise around $106 million.
It would only affect municipalities that have no local police force.
“Gov. Wolf first presented the per capita fee to municipalities that rely on PSP (Pennsylvania State Police) for police services as a way to meet the budget request and lessen the burden on other sources, including the Motor License Fund,” J.J. Abbott, Wolf’s press secretary, wrote via email.
“The state can no longer supplement local and municipal law enforcement agencies’ reliance on PSP services at no cost while they suspend their own services. It is essential that we continue to fund the state police in a sustainable way that does not divert more funding from repairing roads and bridges.”
A part of the additional funding, Abbott wrote, will allow for three additional cadet classes for state police, who as of 2018 service more than 1,700 municipalities throughout the commonwealth.
In response to Wolf’s proposal, two local representatives voiced their opposition.
Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, said that municipalities, through their taxes, are already helping fund state police.
“I think that already, Pennsylvania residents where they live are already paying for that state police coverage through their taxes,” Heffley said. “Many of these municipalities are small.
“They should be able to feel safe in their homes without having to pay an additional charge,” he added.
Rep. Jack Rader, R-Monroe, said he’s been against the fee for years, and while it’s too early to tell which way the tides will turn, in the past, there hasn’t been much support for the fee amid his constituents.
“Every legislative session is different, but there are a lot of people in the rural communities that are against that (the fee),” Rader said. “I know in the past, it didn’t have a lot of support.
“It could be a budget breaker for these rural areas,” he said.