Wolf’s not sheepish about re-floating state police assessment plan
After giving the unpopular and unsuccessful idea of essentially taxing municipalities which use state police coverage in lieu of having their own department, Gov. Tom Wolf resurrected the idea in his budget address to the General Assembly earlier this month.
If it was unpalatable at $25 a person when Wolf first introduced the idea two years ago, it will be even more unpopular this time around, especially in bigger municipalities which would pay millions every year. The idea was originally floated in 2010 but never made it out of a legislative committee.
Wolf believes his revised plan would make it easier to stomach for smaller municipalities, because, this time, instead of a flat rate of $25 per person regardless of size, the concept includes a sliding scale cost based on a municipality’s population.
For a community with up to 2,000 population, the fee would be $8 a person; the amount goes all the way up to $166 a person for municipalities with more than 20,000 residents.
Wolf sees this as a way to bring in about $110 million and, just as important, save the state police money by gradually getting the department to stop dipping into the state’s Motor License Fund.
This robbing Peter to pay Paul has had a negative effect on this account, which is intended to fund infrastructure projects such as road and bridge repairs.
A spokesman for the governor said the money raised by the assessment would help finance three new state police cadet classes to improve protection throughout the commonwealth.
Not all Republicans, who control the General Assembly, are necessarily opposed to the proposal, because there is a recognition that communities which can afford their own police protection should provide it.
As it stands now, any community without municipal protection can call on the state police. Aside from what everyone pays in state taxes, there is no additional charge for this service.
The original plan would have brought in $62 million, but it received a cool reception in 2017 from Republican legislators who represent many rural communities without local police forces.
Senate Republican leader Jake Corman of Centre County said he believes the fee should not be too low to discourage communities which can afford establishing their own police protection from doing so.
The municipality with the greatest population but without a local force is Hempfield in Westmoreland County (population 42,300). Then comes Lower Macungie Township in Lehigh County (population 32,405). Lower Macungie had its own force until several years ago, then disbanded it. Under Wolf’s proposal, Lower Macungie would pay nearly $5.4 million a year. Under the $25 a head plan, Lower Macungie would have paid $766,000.
Even Towamensing Township, with a population of 4,477, would pay more under Wolf’s proposal — $33 a person, or $147,741 a year, compared to $111,925 under the $25-a-head plan of two years ago.
Much larger municipalities, such as Penn Forest, would really take it on the chin. It would be assessed $718,575 a year for its 9,581 residents, compared to $238,525 under the $25-per-person plan.
Another is Chestnuthill Township in Monroe County, which would pay nearly $1.7 million a year for its 14,418 residents, compared to $360,450 under the $25-a-person plan.
The most recent study shows that the state police cost for providing protection for the more than 1,325 municipalities without their own police forces is more than $550 million a year. Additionally, it fills in part-time at more than 400 other communities.
Locally, there are state police barracks at Lehighton, Fern Ridge, Swiftwater, Hazleton, Frackville, Bethlehem, Fogelsville and Belfast.
Voters should decide whether they want a local police force.
If they do, they can probably figure on a tax increase, because creating and maintaining a police department is expensive.
If they are satisfied with the status quo, they must also realize that they will not get the breadth of service that a municipal force provides. In covering for municipalities, state police do not have the personnel to deal with “nuisance” calls — neighbor squabbles, barking dogs and lower level summary offenses.
Some suggest that you get what you pay for, but I maintain that residents in these communities without municipal departments are already paying taxes, part of which fund the state police operations.
By Bruce Frassinelli | firstname.lastname@example.org