STATE POLICE COVERAGE

SUBMITTED PHOTO More than 80 percent of the state's land, and its 3.3 million people, receive coverage by the Pennsylvania State Police. 

Governor Tom Wolf is once again pushing for a fee on residents of municipalities that use Pennsylvania State Police for full-time police coverage as the budget cycle for the next fiscal year enters the homestretch, and two of his Democratic colleagues in the general assembly are trying to make it law.

In his third consecutive budget cycle trying to get a fee put in place as a revenue boaster for the police force whose services cover 3.3 million people in over 80 percent of the state’s land (including the 800,000 people who have part-time state police coverage), Wolf has proposed a sliding scale per-person fee based on the number of people who live in full-time state police-patrolled areas. At present, these municipalities do not pay for Pennsylvania State Police in the same way a municipality uses property taxes to support a local, or regional, police department.

State Sen. Jay Costa, D-43 of Allegheny County, and state Rep. Michael Sturla, D-96 of Lancaster County, have submitted to their respective chambers Senate Bill 43 and House Bill 959 that would make it law for a fee be put on such municipalities.

Their identical bills issue an $8 per person fee for municipalities up to 2,000 residents. The value increases $8 or $9 per person in 1,000-person population increments up to $166 for 20,000 people or more. Population figures, per the legislative bills, would be affixed to the most recent U.S. Census completed.

State Sen. Tim Kearney, D-26 of Swarthmore, is a co-sponsor on Costa’s bill submitted on June 10, and state Reps. Brian Kirkland, D-159 of Chester, Mike Zabel, D-163 of Drexel Hill, Maria Donatucci, D-185 of Philadelphia, and Joanna McClinton, D-191 of Philadelphia, are co-sponsors of Sturla’s bill submitted to the house on May 15. Sturla originally introduced this bill in 2017.

Seven Delaware County communities would be hit with these fees if implemented: the townships of Chadds Ford, Concord, Edgmont, Middletown and Thornbury, and the boroughs of Chester Heights and Rose Valley. The per person fee would range anywhere from $8 a resident in Rose Valley up to $141 per Concord resident (per 2010 census population data).

Until a fee is official, legislative leaders for Middletown and Chadds Ford could not comment on the proposals.

“We pay property and state taxes that should be covering all residents of the commonwealth. It would seem at its face unfair for services we are paying for,” said Chadds Ford Board of Supervisors Chair Frank Murphy. He said he could not comment on the governor’s, or the legislators’, proposals until he thoroughly studied them to see their effect on township taxpayers.

The issue has been on the board’s radar, but it has not been an agenda item at meetings.

“We’re taking a cautious approach to see how this would impact the township,” said Murphy.

“We’re waiting to see if these move forward, but we’re thrilled with state police coverage and look forward to that,” added Middletown Township Council Chair Mark Kirchgasser.

Kirchgasser said the talk of paying for state police service is nothing new in his 15-year tenure on council, the topic coming up annually.

“Based on the level of discussions something may have come around, but it continues to get bat around the legislature,” he said. “If, ultimately, a cost structure is passed by the state, we will look at the way to best provide services.”

A deficiency in state police coverage and a cost disadvantage to utilize state police are two points that Kirchgasser said would develop talks to weight other options. The former, especially, has not occurred.

“We are extremely happy with the coverage we receive and the excellent relationship with the fire department and emergency services,” said Kirchgasser.

Leaders from the other state police-covered areas in the county could not be reached for comment.

Accordin to the governor's executive budget summary for the next fiscal year, the state police budget is projected at $1.3 billion, but $737.6 million is expected from the Motor License Fund, which is a fund used for road infrastructure projects in the state. Taking away from the fund for state police operations has cost $4.2 billion in road and bridge repair according to an April 2019 audit by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

“That $4.25 billion could have cut that list (of repairs) in half and if PennDOT could use all of the gas tax money for roads and bridges we could get that number to zero in about 5 years,” said DePasquale in a news release. Approximately $800 million of the Motor License Fund was put toward the state police in 2017-18 alone.

Appropriations from MLF to PSP are expected to decrease to $500 million in 2027-28.

“The PSP is using Motor License Fund dollars to help fund those patrols and everyone is missing out on road and bridge repair projects that would improve public safety for all,” said Rep. Sturla in a June 11 press release released by the governor’s office. “Charging a reasonable fee for the exemplary service the PSP provides will give them the resources needed to provide those services while preserving public safety.”

If incorporated into the budget, or as state law, the fees would generate over $100 million in revenue to provide for state police operations, services and cadet classes according to the governor’s office.

To collect the money the state would send an invoice to each municipality by Dec. 1 of each year stating the payment due in accordance with the fee schedule established in the respective bills. Municipalities are to pay these bills no later than April 1. The fee will increase annually if the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) for the Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware-Maryland area rises, but will otherwise stay flat.

State Police Commissioner Col. Robert Evanchick said such a fee will start to close a budget gap for the agency.

“This proposal simply asks the municipalities that do not fund a police department to begin to share in the cost that their neighbors already shoulder,” he said.

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