Gov. Tom Wolf’s latest budget once again calls for a fee to pay for state police services. In this iteration, every municipality across Pennsylvania would have to chip in, PennLive reports.
The proposal jettisons both the $25 per capita fee, which drew the ire of smaller, cash-strapped municipalities in 2017, as well as last year′s sliding scale that would have charged larger communities more for state police services.
Instead, Wolf plans to raise nearly $136 million based on a formula that accounts for median household income, the cost to operate local barracks and whether municipalities use the state police for full- or part-time coverage.
Every municipality, regardless of whether they have their own police department or a shared services agreement, would shoulder part of the cost.
According to PennLive’s analysis of Wolf’s budget, the costs in Luzerne County would range from $2,171, or $4 per person, in Warrior Run Borough; to $210,335, or $94 per person, in Dorrance Township.
Proponents of a state police fee long argued that the nearly 1,300 municipalities that rely solely on the state police are getting a free ride. Those communities say they don’t need a dedicated police force or that their small tax bases can’t shoulder the cost of the fee, which would be passed along as a tax hike.
“We’ll see where it goes but I think it’s an interesting approach to finally get at the issue,” said state Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster.
Sturla, who’s long advocated for a state police fee, said one of the primary arguments against it was that even towns with a local police department rely on the state police for major calls and other services, such as its crime lab. Wolf’s latest proposal, he said, addresses that criticism.
Hempfield Township, an affluent Pittsburgh suburb with 41,000 residents and no local police force, would pay the most — nearly $3.1 million per year or $76 per person — under Wolf’s proposal. Philadelphia would pay $1.5 million or less than $1 per person.
Lower Paxton Township faces the most substantial fee in the midstate: $576,000, or $11.63 per person. Harrisburg would pay $91,000, or $1.85 per person; Lancaster would pay $44,000, or 74 cents per person; and York would pay $43,000, or 98 cents per person.
The tiny borough of Pillow in northern Dauphin County, which balked at Wolf’s original 2017 proposal of $7,625, would have to pay $13,856, or $46.65 per person.
“Oh geez, that’s rough,” said Pillow’s mayor, Todd Laudenslager, who pointed out that the proposed fee represents more than a fifth of the borough’s current annual budget.
Wolf’s fee was necessitated in part by legislation that decreases the amount of money from the state’s Motor License Fund that can be used to fund the state police.
The fund generates roughly $2.8 billion per year through the state gasoline tax as well as drivers’ license and registration fees. In recent years, more money was taken out of the fund to pay for increasing demand for police services, shortchanging the road improvement projects the fund was originally intended to support.
The proposed fee would help fund four cadet classes to replace retiring troopers. Across all funds, the state police’s budget will increase nearly 3 percent to $1.38 billion under Wolf’s budget plan.
David M. Sanko, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, said in a written statement that the fee proposal was another example of the state treating local governments like an ATM.
“[It’s] nothing more than the 2020 version of robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said
Republican state Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster County, said Wolf’s latest fee proposal seems more realistic than previous efforts.
“Whatever they do, it needs to be fair, needs to be reflective of what the data truly tells, and shouldn’t just be reaching into pockets unfairly of some and not others,” he said.
Senate Appropriations Chair Pat Browne, R-Lehigh County, said legislators had asked for more of a use-based model. Wolf’s proposal seems closer to that, he said.
“I’ll compliment them on the fact that they listened,” he said. “Whether we’ll pass it or not, we’ll see. We’ll see what they got.”