Municipalities mixed on Wolf’s PSP plan
Local officials had mixed reactions to Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to charge municipalities that rely solely on state police for protection.
It is the third time Wolf has asked for a state police fee during a budget address. Unlike his previous two budgets, in which he proposed a flat $25 per capita fee, in this year’s budget he is proposing a sliding scale from $8 to $166 depending on population.
“Gov. Wolf heard feedback from small and rural communities that there should be a scale that reflected the size of a community, as it is fair to say that more people drives more need for local police duties,” Wolf spokesman J.J Abbott said.
“The sliding scale is meant to try to address those concerns.”
Republican lawmakers who oppose the plan say it is a tax on rural Pennsylvania. Abbott, however, said that the fee is applied the same to urban, suburban and rural areas.
“There are many large suburban communities that are not providing a local police force and (are), in turn, relying solely on the state police,” he said. “On the flip side, there are suburban, rural and urban communities where taxpayers are paying for local police, which means their residents are already funding a police force to perform local law enforcement duties.”
The largest Pennsylvania municipality without a police force is Hempfield Township in Westmoreland County. With a population of roughly 42,300, it would have to pay $7 million under the plan, which Abbott said would generate an estimated $106 million annually and fully fund three new cadet classes.
“Which would mean hundreds of new troopers,” Abbott said.
Of the 36 Somerset County municipalities that rely solely on state police coverage, only six would have to pay a fee higher than $8 per capita.
Somerset Township, with a population of 12,122, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development website, would have to pay approximately $1.2 million a year, or $100 per resident.
The township operates with a $1.7 million budget with $312,000 in real estate tax revenue. Supervisors haven’t raised property taxes in more than 30 years.
Township Supervisor Don Miller said that if the governor’s proposal is approved, it would be catastrophic to the township.
“Our taxes would probably quadruple,” he said, adding, “Why would we want to quadruple our taxes just for Philadelphia to get some more police?”
Miller said they are hoping the proposal does not pass, just like Wolf’s previous two proposals.
“We pay taxes already for the state police. I have always thought they did a very adequate job,” he said.
Miller said that if the measure passes, the township would be forced to provide local police coverage.
“It gets very excessive,” he said. “It would still quadruple our taxes.”
Boswell Borough Council member and former trooper Larry Williams agreed with Miller. He said that small municipalities such as Boswell would not get more coverage for the $10,216 price tag. Boswell, with 1,277 residents, would pay $8 per person.
“They can’t enforce ordinances,” he said. “That would bring money in. We are losing 10 grand and still not getting enforcement of local ordinances and regulations.”
In his opinion, Boswell could use a police force but cannot afford one under the current tax structure.
Garrett Borough faces a similar situation as it has been trying to attract a new police officer for months. Borough council President Jerry Dupont said the $3,648 fee is the same amount the borough currently has budgeted for police.
“If it puts more officers out in public, I’d say it is a good thing,” he said.
He said the borough has discussed a millage rate for police. He said the borough cannot afford what neighboring departments are offering to pay.
“I am sure a lot of small towns are dealing with this,” he said.
Paint Township Supervisor Joanne Wright said she would like to learn more about the proposal. Paint Township would have to pay $17 a person for its 3,149 residents, or roughly $53,000.
“It is a win-win for our residents and for the state police and their program,” she said. “They provide so much coverage to local municipalities.”
Wright said the key would be for new officers to patrol areas without local coverage.
“As long as we would get them in this area I think it would be helpful,” she said. “I think they do a good job. I do think they are stretched thin, and it would be beneficial for more coverage.”