By Tyler Arnold
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf prided his budget proposal on "no new broad-based taxes," but a $25 per-person fee for municipalities that rely on state police in lieu of funding their own forces looks an awful lot like a tax to those who would have to pay.
David Sanko, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, condemned the plan as a "general shifting in responsibility" that would cost 1,273 municipalities a total of $63 million.
The proposal is part of the Democratic governor’s attempt to use unfunded mandates to "push everything on local governments," Sanko told Watchdog. "They have to pay more for no [addtional] services."
The calculation will be done simply by multiplying each municipality’s population by $25, according to Wolf’s press secretary J.J. Abbott.
The bill covers a large chunk of Pennsylvania’s geography, but Abbott told Watchdog that it would affect only about 20 percent of the population.
"The $25 fee is a fraction of the cost paid by 80 percent of the population who live in a community that provides local policing, he said.
"Approximately 10 million people live in a local municipality where their local taxes go toward providing some level of local law enforcement to their residents."
‘An unfavorable view’
It appears that whether you’re a hardened criminal or a toddler, you’re assessed.
"We are concerned," said Sharon Royer, the secretary treasurer of Brenner Township in Centre County.
Brenner’s population is just under 9,000. But more than half of them are behind bars because two state prisons with a combined inmate population of 4,441 are located in the township. The county jail accounts for another 275. She said that state police mostly come to the township because of problems at the prison.
"We get no tax dollars whatsoever from them," Royer said. With the fees amounting to almost a quarter-million dollars annually, the township might have to double real estate taxes to pay the cost.
Sanko pointed out that towns with their own police forces use state police, too, and South Middleton Supervisor Cory Adams noted that "our residents do pay state taxes."
Eldred Township Supervisor Gary Hoffman deemed the charge "unfair" because many small municipalities like his, about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, cannot sustain their own police department.
"The impact to our township would be about $70,000. I have no clue where our township would find it," he said in an email to Watchdog.
Hoffman praised the state police force’s "dedication and commitment" and said he would be happy to see them get more money. But he noted that there is no indication from Wolf of how the increase would improve services to the towns that don’t have their own police department and "this simply has the appearance that the Commonwealth needs money and this is one way to generate it."
That was the general consensus among township officials across the state who spoke with Watchdog.
"We cannot currently afford it so we would have to make a decision between significantly cutting services or raising taxes," Harborcreek Township Supervisor Dean Pepicello told Watchdog.org via email.
Harborcreek Township is located in Erie County and has a population of 17,500. They would be charged close to a half of a million dollars annually under Wolf’s proposal.
Pepicello said "we generally have an unfavorable view" of this proposal because it slaps on a fee without providing increased services. The township will consider using a neighboring county’s police force because it would have the same financial burden on their residents.
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