How a Proposed Fee May Hurt Rural PA
March 18, 2020
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed 2020 budget would impose a fee for State Police coverage on all municipalities in the state based on coverage, the town’s population and income. This is Wolf’s “third time at bat”, having proposed the same idea twice before but it having it shot down by the state legislature. In 2017, he proposed a $25-per-person flat fee for municipalities. Last year, he offered a sliding scale where municipalities would pay a range from $8 to $166 per capita, depending on population, for using the police force.
The state has been taking money out of the Motor License Fund to help pay for the State Police; so much so, that Pennsylvania Attorney General Eugene DePasquale issued a scathing report in April 2019 that said transfers from the Motor License Fund to State Police have totaled more than $4.25 billion since the 2012-13 fiscal year, money that PennDOT could otherwise have used to address a growing list of needed repairs to the roads and bridges across the state.
Wolf has been quoted saying that he would like to stop the process. But, other reports say the new fees would not end the state’s reliance on the Motor License Fund to fund the State Police. Wolf would also like to see the new fee fund four additional cadet classes in 2020-21 to replace those retiring from the State Police.
Where the new fee would hurt the most is rural PA. According to the U.S. Census, as of 2017, Susquehanna County has a population of 40,985 – almost the same size as the city of Wilkes-Barre. The average income is $25,454 a year according to bestplaces.net. Some would argue that another fee would not be good for those whose incomes are stretched so far.
Speaking of being stretched, there are only two troopers on at night covering the 832 square miles that make up the county. That figure came to light during meetings that were held last year for a proposed drug and alcohol treatment center in Herrick Township. Jeff Durante, owner of The SpeakEasy Saloon and Resort, raised concerns at one of the meetings when he stated state police response time was two hours for an incident involving someone waving a gun at his establishment. Other people were worried about what would happen if troopers were at one end of the county when they were needed at the other.
One municipality trying to get ahead of the curve is Clifford Township. They passed an ordinance at their March 10 meeting that entered into an agreement with nearby Greenfield Township that will have the latter’s police force providing police protection services to Clifford Township. This includes setting up and running traffic for a one to two hour period once a day for five days per week at an appropriate location within the township and vehicle patrols of the entire township once per shift or three times a day, seven days a week, for 112 hours per week at a cost of $4,500 a month or $54,000 a year. That number is considerably less than the estimated $91,691 cost to the township under Governor Wolf’s proposed budget.
The township will be using Act 13 funds to pay for police protection. Clifford Township Supervisor Barry Searle said, “We don’t have a crime problem here. We don’t have to have police here. The state police do a great job. They had a one hour response time to my house for an alarm but they are spread thin. But, why do we have to pay over $90,000? That’s a mil and a half for the township. The governor’s proposal doesn’t increase coverage. If we are going to have a police officer covering us all the time, okay, but we aren’t.” Greenfield Township Police Chief Jeff Martin said the agreement is good for both communities, “Clifford Township didn’t have police coverage and it will increase the hours of our seven member force from 77 to an additional 112 hours a week in Clifford.”
So, will this be Wolf’s “three strikes and you’re out” or “third time’s a charm” at passing the fee? Time will tell.