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Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

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Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Auditor General Eugene DePasquale audits Dept. of Education; Dauphin Co. police consolidation

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Oct 15, 2015 4:16 PM
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Photo by Marie Cusick/StateImpact PA

What to look for on Smart Talk Friday, October 16, 2015:

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale's recent audit of the state Department of Education concluded the department failed to provide adequate assistance to 561 academically challenged school districts across the state.  Some 310,000 students are enrolled in those districts.

Two other significant findings of the audit were that the Board of Education hasn't updated its plan for basic education since 1999 and that former special adviser on higher education Ron Tomalis did very little work during the Corbett Administration, while being paid more than $139,000 a year. (Listen to Segment C for the full interview with Eugene DePasquale.) 


DePasquale appears on Friday's Smart Talk to discuss his findings and recommendations.

Also, government officials would probably be unanimous in saying public safety is their number one priority.   One of the biggest and -- most often - the biggest expenditure for a city, borough or township is their police department. 

We hear on a daily basis how strapped governments are for money. 

With that in mind, consolidation of police departments that patrol and are responsible for multiple municipalities is becoming more widespread across Pennsylvania.  A recent report studied Dauphin County's 40 municipalities and whether consolidation and the creation of new regional police departments protects citizens and saves money.

To tell us more about the report's conclusions are Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries and Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico.

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Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries (left) and Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico (right) visit Smart Talk on October 16, 2015.

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  • Scott LaMar img 2015-10-16 13:33

    Dale writes...
    Dear Scott,

    I know I offer this in untimely fashion, but perhaps you’ll revisit today’s topic in the future, and, if so, this might be fodder for further investigation?

    The topic at hand, “Is it cost-effective to consolidate municipal services?” I wonder whether the better question isn’t, “For whom is consolidation cost-effective?”

    Take this example . . . I live just inside the city limits of Lancaster. I have a friend who lives in another location, but just outside the city limits in Lancaster Township. My friend and I have homes of similar value, and about ten years ago we had an enlightening conversation comparing our taxes. In the spring I pay a county tax and a city tax. In the autumn I pay a school or property tax. I was surprised to learn that he paid only two of those taxes; county and school, but did not pay the city tax for services provided by Lancaster fire and police, though more recently, Lancaster Township has been contracting with Manheim Township for those services. Largely because I thought he was mistaken, I called the Township offices to investigate. They confirmed that their residents paid a fee to the city along with their county tax payment—the two were rolled together into one bill—but it was a shockingly small fee. Where, at that time, I paid in excess of $1000 towards the city tax—now it nears $2000—the fee Township residents paid was something like $60 per household. That, of course, meant that city residents were shouldering the burden of the cost for Township’s services. So I called the city offices to question why? No, we weren’t necessarily getting more for our money, the city employee explained. Their very short answer was that Township “did not want to pay” anything more, and there wasn’t anything the city could do about it. Naturally, I wondered why the city offered those services when township residents weren’t willing to fully pay for them? Couldn’t city taxpayers save a few dollars? Couldn’t we cut back with less area to cover? Sure that’s rhetorical—I’m guessing Lancaster hasn’t scaled back their forces since losing Township? I don’t know that for certain, but when do taxpayers ever get a refund from local coffers?

    So here’s my concern with consolidation. Reasonable people expect that payment for these services are equally disbursed among the taxpayers that receive those services. However, I’m guessing, given my example, it doesn’t quite pan out that way? I think, as you mentioned several times this morning, that it has to do with a reservation from taxpayers in rural and suburban areas of assuming the higher costs of maintaining police and fire services for larger municipalities. I suspect this, their concern, enters the equation when the taxes are finally levied, and in the end it is residents in the larger municipalities that assume higher costs for consolidation, while those in the suburbs, rural areas, and, yes, even gated communities, wind up with a much lighter tax load. Whom does consolidation really benefit? I’m guessing there’s always going to be a long end and a short end of the stick in these deals. Lancaster is surrounded by several affluent townships that pay substantially less in taxes than the city, and it has been that way for the twenty-five-plus years I’ve lived here. I fear more consolidation will only mean more disparity!

    Thanks for your time,

  • Scott LaMar img 2015-10-16 13:35

    Bill comments...

    1. Local government control of public safety is lost. Mayor/head of retains public safety responsibility but no longer has authority to direct public safety and is no longer accountable.
    2. Boroughs/municipalities giving up their own police force are not allowed to be on the governing board of the police department to have a voice in the operations, cost distribution, police protection, policies, etc. A “Regional” force is not then regional.
    3. Boroughs/municipalities are not immune to lawsuits from officers/employees of disbanded police force. $ ½ million and up are actual settlements per lawsuit. This can bring smaller municipality to knees financially.
    4. Argument of going from individual police chiefs to one is not valid. Larger force will have same number of administrative posts to cover the combined force on expense tied to # officers. And as part of larger organization, will be more expensive due to organization size effect – e.g. vice chief in larger organization will cost more to fund than police chief in smaller municipality.

    1. Middle municipalities get free coverage when patrols pass through. Response time is improved.
    2. Smaller municipalities do not have wherewithal to manage modern police force – for best police protection. This is more important than cost savings.
    3. Smaller municipalities cannot fund/run special units for investigation, crowd control, etc.
    4. Larger force to address large events were sometimes adjacent smaller municipality force cooperation does not exist.
    5. On paper, consolidation saves in overhead expenses….expenses that are not tied to # of officers served.
    6. Consolidated force can compete for higher qualified personnel for officers, and chief, etc. And can provide better training – higher level of professional performance – this is more important than cost savings.