Fees

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - NEWS -

rely on full- or part-time state po­lice cov­er­age, ac­cord­ing to State Po­lice Di­rec­tor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Ryan Tarkowski. Of those, 1,297 rely on full-time cov­er­age and 414 rely on part­time cov­er­age, he said.

A state po­lice 2016-2018 strate­gic plan in­di­cates troop­ers pro­vide full-time or part-time po­lice ser­vice to ap­prox­i­mately 66 per­cent of the state’s mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, 60 per­cent of the road­ways, 82 per­cent of the to­tal land area, and 26 per­cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion.

And that num­ber is ever grow­ing. At the end of 2017, 1,702 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties re­lied on state po­lice. At the end of 2016, it was 1,691, and at the end of 2015, it was 1,685, ac­cord­ing to Tarkowski.

Those re­ly­ing solely on state po­lice lo­cally are Chadds Ford, Ch­ester Heights, Con­cord, Edg­mont, Mid­dle­town, Rose Val­ley and Thorn­bury.

Rose Val­ley, with a pop­u­la­tion of just 949 by 2017 cen­sus es­ti­mates, would pay $7,592 at the low­est end of the scale un­der Wolf’s pro­posal. Con­cord, with 17,783 res­i­dents, would pay more than $2.5 mil­lion and Mid­dle­town, with 15,965, would pay nearly $2 mil­lion.

Two state rep­re­sen­ta­tives whose dis­tricts cover the bulk of those ar­eas – Steve Bar­rar, R-160 of Up­per Chich­ester and Chris Quinn, R-168 of Mid­dle­town – said Fri­day that they don’t think much of the new plan.

“I’m not on board with it,” said Quinn. “We keep com­ing up with new ideas and find new ways to take more of peo­ple’s hard­earned money, and I strug­gle with it. But if we are go­ing to im­ple­ment this type (of fee) the only way I would sup­port it is if it’s fair and equal, and it’s equal across Penn­syl­va­nia.”

“That’s one of those pro­pos­als that comes up ev­ery sin­gle year,” said Bar­rar. “They repack­age it, they re­for­mu­late it, and it still has gone nowhere. My main con­cern is that if the money is go­ing to be col­lected in the name of the state po­lice, it’s got to go to the state po­lice.”

Quinn, who sits on sits on the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, said he would not have a com­ment on the specifics of Wolf’s plan or al­ter­na­tives un­til he gets a chance to “look un­der the hood” of the pro­posed bud­get dur­ing hear­ings over the next few weeks, but would rather fo­cus on a shale gas tax ahead of any other.

“There are a lot of good ideas peo­ple have on how we can improve, but at the end of the day, the first tax that I per­son­ally would like to see im­ple­mented would be on shale,” he said. “We have that re­source, and when I look at our area, we bear all the risk and I see very lit­tle re­ward for the risk we’re bear­ing.”

Bar­rar said he wasn’t against Wolf’s pro­posal out­right, but thought it would need some com­po­nent that pro­vided a ded­i­cated trooper pres­ence to those ar­eas without their own de­part­ments to be palat­able. He also was not keen on how mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties would have to ab­sorb the cost, which would likely trickle down to ad­di­tional taxes on res­i­dents.

“The gover­nor said he was not propos­ing any new taxes, when in re­al­ity he is propos­ing new taxes,” said Bar­rar. “This is ba­si­cally a tax on the peo­ple in these town­ships.”

Wolf spokesman J.J. Ab­bott said the plan would raise an ex­pected $103.9 mil­lion that would go to­ward meet­ing the gen­eral fund obli­ga­tion to pay for state po­lice, but the pro­posed per-capita fee would still be less than mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties pay for their own po­lice forces.

“Eighty per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion pays for a lo­cal po­lice force,” he said. “The cur­rent sys­tem is not sus­tain­able given the ex­tra de­mand this places on the state po­lice.”

But Mid­dle­town Coun­cil Chair­man Mark Kirch­gasser said that cost would still have to be passed on “dol­lar for dol­lar” to res­i­dents.

“We have a static set of re­serves, they don’t re­plen­ish,” he said. “We couldn’t even cover it for one year.”

Kirch­gasser said he does not think putting a dol­lar fig­ure on pop­u­la­tions is en­tirely fair to the process ei­ther. He ques­tioned how one could value a per­son in a small com­mu­nity at $8 and an­other in a larger com­mu­nity at $166.

Kir­cha­gasser said there have not been any re­cent cost/ben­e­fit stud­ies done on im­ple­ment­ing Mid­dle­town’s own po­lice force, though coun­cil does have an un­der­stand­ing of the costs as­so­ci­ated with such an en­deavor. He added that Mid­dle­town is very happy with the “tremen­dous ser­vice” it re­ceives from state po­lice.

“We will con­tinue to mon­i­tor this thing and when some­thing ul­ti­mately plays out, we’ll have to have a re­sponse in place,” he said. “So we’ll just con­tinue to wait and see what hap­pens.”

Wolf has out­lined a $1.3 bil­lion bud­get for state po­lice in the 2019-20 fis­cal year be­gin­ning July 1, a 3-per­cent increase over 2018-19. Ap­prox­i­mately $738 mil­lion of that is ex­pected to come from the Mo­tor Li­cense Fund.

The fund was a point of con­tention in re­cent years, as it is sup­posed to go to­ward things like bridge and road re­pairs. But ad­min­is­tra­tions go­ing back nearly two decades have steadily in­creased fund con­tri­bu­tions to state po­lice fund­ing in the name of “high­way safety.”

By 2016-17, the MLF ap­pro­pri­a­tion to state po­lice was $802 mil­lion, ac­count­ing for 65 per­cent of the state po­lice bud­get. But amend­ments to the fis­cal code as part of that bud­get process re­quired a grad­ual draw-down on state po­lice funds com­ing from the fund, which will cap at $500 mil­lion by 2027.

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