Bethlehem Press

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Police costs would hurt rural towns

Tuesday, April 18, 2017 by Chris reber creber@tnonline.com in Local News

Should municipalities that get their police coverage from the state police pay a fee for the service?

Gov. Tom Wolf believes so, and a new proposal takes the idea even further.

Understandably, elected officials from those communities, many of them small and rural, are not wild about the idea.

Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, has proposed charging municipalities that use state police part time or full time.

His proposal is for a fee that would increase each year.

Lawmakers are trying to wean the state police off state transportation funds.

Rep. Jack Rader, R-Monroe, says that the fee would fall largely on small, rural municipalities, which do not receive much assistance from the state to begin with.

“The state police is used by the whole state. To pick out a certain segment of the population and charging them for something, I don’t think we should do that,” Rader said.

Rep. Doyle Heffley called the fee a tax on small, rural municipalities that do not necessarily need a full-time police department.

“It’s a discussion that needs to be held, how to fund our state police, and what’s an adequate number, and where we’re going to get these dollars from, but I’m not just going to penalize everyone in a rural area,” he said.

Local officials said that if they were charged a fee for state police coverage, they would most likely have to pass it along to residents.

East Penn Township supervisor William Schwab said East Penn is one of the municipalities that would be forced to pay. If it was assessed a fee, he said, it would be passed along to taxpayers.

He said that the state police assists with major crime investigations all across the state, even if the municipality has local coverage.

“It’s strange that the most expensive part of state police are their labs, their investigative teams for their major crimes, and the smaller municipalities are going to have to pay for that, where Lehighton, Mahoning and Franklin wouldn’t have to, which doesn’t seem like a fair way of looking at it,” he said.

Bowmanstown borough council President Kara Scott said that if her municipality had the money to pay for police coverage, they would have their own force, but they do not.

“I feel personally that the residents of small municipalities get taxed enough. And the small municipalities with less commerce and businesses have little resources to provide that,” she said.

Officials in Penn Forest Township said they fear that their residents won’t be able to pay the increased property taxes to cover the fee. The township currently has no municipal property tax.

“I can honestly say that a young couple with just the two of them, this wouldn’t break them, but when you have an older couple on a fixed income, or a young couple with five children, that is going to be a burden,” said Penn Forest Township supervisor Warren Reiner.

In most cases, the state only responds to the townships it covers on a per-call basis. There is no patrolling, and the state police do not enforce local ordinances.

Rader said that rural municipalities should get a guarantee of some coverage from the state, and if they want more, it is their choice.

“If they think they have crime and need a local force, they can go out and raise taxes and join the regional police force. if they don’t, that’s their choice. I don’t think they should be mandated by the state. I don’t like mandates,” Rader said

Times News reporter Judy Dolgos-Kramer contributed to this report.