Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed spending package reintroduces a call for local municipalities to pay for state police coverage. But while previous forms of the proposal only mandated municipalities that did not have their own police departments pay the fee — this year’s iteration calls for every municipality in the commonwealth to contribute to the cost.
While Bradford County municipalities with their own local police coverage will pay less per person than those without, the fee scale takes into account several other factors, such as population size, average household income, local police department costs and more.
Specifically, the cost per year to the Bradford County municipalities in the Morning Times coverage area is as follows:
• Athens Borough — $23,844.84
• Athens Township — $37,862.03
• Sayre Borough — $40,291.09
• South Waverly Borough — $7,502.58
• Sheshequin Township — $38,181.45
• Litchfield Township — $38,894.57
• Ridgebury Township — $57,376.17
• Smithfield Township — $43,440
• Ulster Township — $38,122.02
• Windham Township — $27,187.57.
Under the budget proposal’s new fee scale, the municipalities listed above with their own police forces — Sayre Borough, Athens Township, Athens Borough and South Waverly Borough (which receives its coverage from the Sayre Police Department) — would pay $7.43 per person living in their municipality. The rest of the townships would pay $29.71 per person for state police coverage.
On Tuesday, local officials blasted the proposal.
“I think it’s ludicrous,” Athens Township supervisor George Ballenstedt said. “Every municipality uses state police sometimes, but we barely use the state police except for special circumstances like lab testing or incidents that require special equipment — incidents that are pretty rare in Athens Township.”
“Asking municipalities that have their own full-time departments and are struggling to cover the cost of operating the department to pay more and further subsidize the cost to provide state police coverage to municipalities that chose to not provide police services or cannot afford to do so is unfair and unacceptable to our taxpayers,” Sayre Borough Manager Dave Jarrett said.
“We’re not giving any more money to the giant toilet that is Harrisburg,” added Sheshequin Township Supervisor Kurt Lafy. “Wolf doesn’t want to be the bad guy, so he wants us to be the bad guy and pass the tax on to our residents. Because that’s what it is. It’s a tax — not a fee. Well, we’re not a collection agency for the state.”
Both Ballenstedt and Jarrett stated that both of their respective police departments already cost over $1 million, and any additional expenses on their residents that do not directly benefit them have negative connotations.
“Everyone already pays several different kinds of taxes which are supposed to be used to fund the state police,” Ballenstedt said. “We have nine full-time police officers plus our chief, along with two part-timers. They work very hard and we are well-covered, especially since we cover Elmira Street and a lot of rural territory.”
“There are municipalities throughout Pennsylvania that are much larger than all of the Valley communities combined that rely 100 percent on state police coverage and pay nothing more than the taxes we all pay to the Commonwealth,” added Jarrett.
Jarrett and Lafy also expressed skepticism that the fee, if passed into law, would remain constant every year and, instead, recommended that the state come up with other solutions.
“(Sayre Borough’s fee) may be $40,000 this year, but given the track record of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ you will see that local amount increase year after year,” he said. “Given the fact that the resources of the state police are strained, it might be prudent for the Commonwealth to develop a program that would provide incentives to communities with established police department to expand their jurisdiction.
“Sayre Borough already provides services to South Waverly Borough, and I am aware of a municipality in Westmoreland County that provides various levels of police service to at least six different municipalities,” Jarrett continued. “There are successful programs throughout the State that could be used as a model for the program.”
“This thing hasn’t even passed, and (the fee) is already higher than when Wolf first proposed it,” said Lafy. “Maybe they should cut everyone’s fat pensions and benefits that are given to state employees. I’m not talking about those for the state police or the plow truck drivers or PennDOT workers. I’m talking about these elected representatives and their staffs. Privatize the liquor stores. It’s always spend and never cut. We’re just sick and tired of Harrisburg and its crap.”