News

A fee for state police: Fair or double taxation?

Written by Jim Hook/Chambersburg Public Opinion | Feb 22, 2017 7:53 AM
state_police_trooper.jpg

State police trooper in Franklin County (Photo: Public Opinion)

(Chambersburg) -- Township officials in Franklin County are lobbying against Gov. Tom Wolf's proposal requiring any municipality without a local police department to pay a fee for state police protection.

The proposed annual $25-per-resident fee would cost 13 municipalities and two boroughs in Franklin County a total of $2.5 million. About two-thirds of the county's population (100,000 people) live in municipalities that do not have local police. Five boroughs and one township in the county have local police departments.

Municipalities would have to raise the revenue to pay the state. The most likely option is increasing the real estate tax.

"We'd have to put on another 4 mills," Quincy Township Supervisor Robert Gunder said.

The township (pop. 5,511) would owe $138,000. The current 1.6-mill real estate tax raises $54,000.

"We're going to fight that it doesn't happen," said Kerry Bumbaugh, Quincy Township supervisor and chair of the county chapter of Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors. "Our residents pay taxes now. Why should it be that families pay twice?"

That's the reason Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Chambersburg, said he is opposed to the proposal. Municipal leaders choose whether to rely on state police coverage or to set up their own police force to provide a more intense level of service.

"These are choices that Pennsylvanians and their municipal leaders make," Kauffman said. "No one should be charged twice for the manner in which they utilize the PSP."

Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Greencastle, said Wolf's proposal is one option that he is willing to consider.

"The revenue needed to support the state police does not magically fall out of the sky," Schemel said. "Whether I like the governor's proposal or not I have to admit that it places the expense where the rubber meets the road.

"Municipalities which already pay to have their own police force take a significant burden off of the state police.  Taxpayers in those towns and townships pay extra, and there is a corresponding benefit to everyone else. Is it fair to ask the taxpayers in the other municipalities to shoulder a little of the expense too?  As a matter of equity it is worth exploring."

Washington Township is the lone township in the county with a police department. The township pays $2 million a year for local policing. If it didn't, the township would pay $360,000 for state police protection, under Wolf's proposal.

"We're paying for police way more than $360,000, and our road money is being eroded because it's paying for state police," Christopher said. "It's a fairness issue."

Nearly half the annual $1.3 billion state police budget comes from the state Motor Vehicle Fund. Christopher and other officials would like to see the Motor Vehicle money used for highway transportations. Under the state constitution, motorist fees and fuel taxes are to be used strictly for highway construction, repair and safety.

"Last year the state police were funded by raiding the transportation fund," Schemel said. "We cannot, and should not, do that again."

Wolf's proposal would raise just $63 million from municipalities. Nearly half of 2,560 municipalities in Pennsylvania rely solely on the Pennsylvania State Police for police protection, according to state data.

"I don't think the governor's proposal is worth the effort because it's not going to make a bit of difference," Christopher said. "It's a drop in the bucket. I don't know what the answer is. Either way it isn't going to affect Washington Township, we're already paying the piper."

Governor Tom Wolf is proposing to charge municipalities without a police force $25 per person to help fund state police. Sean Heisey

 

Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, said the fee would be a hard sell in the local area.

"It's very hard to tax some people for a service when essentially they're getting the same service," Topper said. "In our area I haven't heard any complaints about (state police) response time. We need to have a debate as to what is the responsibility of our state police force."

The discussion should include the role of the state police, according to several township supervisors. Should their duties be limited to highway patrols and investigations? Should county or regional police departments be created? Should county sheriff's offices be empowered to go on patrol?

Sen. Richard Alloway II, R-Chambersburg said the power of the county sheriffs could be expanded, according to Chad Reichard, his legislative aide. Alloway is working with Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Allegheny County, to introduce legislation reforming the Pennsylvania constabulary to reduce the burden on municipal officers.

Wolf's proposal amounts to double taxation, according to Reichard.

"This is a matter of local control, and there is no guarantee in the governor's proposal -- that we are aware of -- that the $25 fee will be used to bolster the barracks in the region in which the funds were raised," he said.

"They have problems in Harrisburg they need to solve instead of trying to figure out who to bill," Southampton Township Supervisor Sam Cressler said. "If they pick and choose, then it's no longer fair, and I don't know it's constitutional."

Cressler said that on Saturday he saw four state police vehicles in Shippensburg, which has its own police department, but none in neighboring Southampton Township.

"How is that fair?" he said. "Why am I being punished for being a law-abiding citizen?"

"People are already paying state taxes," Hamilton Township Supervisor Randy Negley said. "They keep taxing. Where does it end? Where's all the money going? I think the state needs to look at its budget.

"I don't think it's right to throw it back on the municipality. It all flows downhill, and we're at the bottom. What options do we have at this level? Where do they think we get our money? I guess we'd have to burden the taxpayer."

Instead of passing on a mandate, the state could take municipalities out of the middle and assess the fee itself, Negley said.

The state should consider science when deciding on a fee, Cressler said, instead of the attitude "'let's screw all the country folks again. They have a few bucks in the bank.' That's not science."

y the numbers

Gov. Tom Wolf's proposal for an annual $25-per-resident fee for state police coverage would cost local municipalities that don't have their own police departments a total of nearly $2.5 million. Here's how it breaks down, based on population figures from 2015.

Antrim: $381,025, for 15,241 people

Fannett: $64,500, for 2,580 people

Greene: $433,100, for 17,324 people

Guilford: $366,650, for 14,666 people

Hamilton: $275,5550, for 11,022 people

Letterkenny: $58,075, for 2,323 people

Lurgan: $55,125, for 2,205 people

Metal: $47,800, for 1,912 people

Mont Alto: $47,000, for 1,880 people

Montgomery: $153,650, for 6,146 people

Peters: $111,175, for 4,447 people

Orrstown: $6,300, for 252 people

Quincy: $137,775, for 5,511 people

St. Thomas: $148,950, for 5,958 people

Southampton: $208,450, for 8,338 people

Total for Franklin County: $2,495,125, for 99,805 people

 

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and Public Opinion Online.

Published in News

back to top

Give Now

Estate Planning

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Smart Talk

National Edward R. Murrow Awards

DuPont Columbia Awards

Support Local Journalism

Latest News from NPR

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »