Proposed fee, if approved, is another reason for regional policing
● By Steven Hoffman
Gov. Wolf unveiled his proposed state budget last week, and the spending plan did not include the broad tax increases that were destined to be rejected by the Republican-controlled State Legislature, which is what happened last year and the year before that. However, the proposal for 2017-2018 did include a fee of $25 per resident on communities that rely exclusively on State Police protection rather than fund their own police departments. The fee would generate about $63 million in revenues as the state tries to deal with a $3 billion deficit.
Whether the fee is approved is certainly in doubt. Previous efforts to implement a fee on the larger municipalities were unsuccessful.
More than half of Pennsylvania’s municipalities rely solely on State Police for policing services. Taxpayers throughout Pennsylvania share the burden of funding the State Police. Of course, people who reside in municipalities that have their own police departments pay for both the local and state policing services.
With year-to-year budget shortfalls and a massive problem funding the staggering costs for pension funds for public school and state employees, Pennsylvania is not in a strong financial position right now. The costs of operating the State Police increase year after year, and there are severe state trooper shortages. The state uses revenues generated from gas taxes and drivers’ fees to operate the State Police that could instead be used to repair roads and to fix bridges.
One way to provide more support for the State Police and to ensure adequate public safety is for more municipalities to enter into agreements for regional policing. One good example of this is the newly formed Southern Chester County Regional Police Department, which debuted on January 1 of this year. This new department combines the police departments of New Garden Township and West Grove Borough. The elected officials from both municipalities deserve credit for seeing the wisdom in regional policing. Police Chief Gerald Simpson spearheaded the effort, and he deserves a lot of credit for overseeing the successful merger of the two departments. Kennett Square Borough officials were involved in the early discussions about the formation of the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department from the onset, but ultimately decided that they were better off continuing to operate their own police department. That’s fine. Kennett Square Borough can fit the expenses of the police department into its annual budget without placing an extraordinary burden on taxpayers.
Municipalities that want, and can afford their own police department should have it.
But every municipality should pay for its fair share of the policing services, which is where that $25 per resident fee comes in. That fee could encourage more municipalities across the state to enter into regional policing agreements.
The Oxford area has long needed regional policing. Borough residents are extraordinarily burdened by having to fund a 24/7 police department that, at times, must respond to calls that are in neighboring townships where there is no police department. Several of the Oxford Area School District’s schools are in East Nottingham Township, for instance, and the shopping center with the Walmart is in Lower Oxford Township. There should be some sort of multi-municipal agreement in place that allows the Oxford Borough Police Department to ensure adequate public safety, and each municipality that is part of the agreement should be paying its fair share for the policing services.
If the state would adopt the proposed fee, it would give municipalities another reason to look to regional policing options.