HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf has taken a new approach in his renewed call to get local governments to help cover the cost of state police if they do not have a local force.
In the revised plan, included in Wolf’s budget proposal, municipalities that rely on state police would pay fees based on their size, beginning at $8 per person in the state’s smallest and scaling up to $166 per resident in communities with more than 20,000 people and no local police.
Wolf had previously called for the General Assembly to pass legislation adding a flat $25 per-person fee on communities without local police.
The Legislature did not act on the previous plan, despite controversy over the cost of providing local police coverage by state police. Much of the resistance focused on the fact that the old plan didn't exclude the state's smallest communities.
An analysis by the House Democrats appropriations committee staff put the price tag for state police service in communities without police at $665 million. Wolf’s proposed sliding fee charge to local communities would cover about $100 million of that and help pay for increasing the state police budget by $33.4 million in the coming fiscal year.
In budget documents, Wolf justifies the plan by saying that it will “address an inequity” as communities without local police are putting a “strain” on state police.
“Sixty-seven percent of municipalities rely on the State Police to provide local support. This coverage comes at no cost the municipalities and is born by taxpayers statewide, who support their own local police coverage through local taxes,” Wolf said in budget materials distributed by his office.
Despite the move to the sliding fee, rural lawmakers continued to argue the governor’s plan is an unfair attack on small municipalities that require little police protection.
“I’m against it, regardless of the cost,” Republican state Rep. Brad Roae of Crawford County said.
Even a small fee would be difficult for small municipalities to manage, Roae said.
State Rep. Fred Keller, R-Snyder County, said the plan is flawed because even communities with police turn to state police for assistance.
The state should conduct a review to determine exactly how much time the state police provide help, regardless of whether the community has a local police department, he said. Then, the state could bill all communities based on how much they use the state police, he said.
“This is just a way of moving money out the rural areas of the state,” Keller said.
State Rep. Tedd Nesbit, R-Mercer County, said rural residents are certainly going to feel like they're on the losing end of the plan if their communities are asked to contribute financially unless they also see evidence that they are getting better police service.
Nothing in Wolf’s plan indicates that the state police would be expected to ratchet up police protection in communities that are paying for the service.
“We need to decide how we’re going to fund police protection,” Nesbit said. “You don’t want to end up double-taxing people” by making their communities pay for a tax on state police protection on top of their normal state taxes, he said.
The smallest municipalities would pay less than $100 each while the largest municipalities relying on state police for full-time patrol services would pay more than $3 million each, according to an analysis by state Rep. Matthew Bradford, D-Montgomery County, the Democratic chair of the House appropriations committee.
The fee would only affect municipalities with no local, regional or contracted police; shown as the gray area of the map.
Communities without their own police departments represent 67 percent of the state’s local governments. They cover 82 percent of the state’s land mass but are home to about 26 percent of the state’s population, according to Bradford's analysis.
John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.