Gov. Tom Wolf, as part of his proposed budget plan, has suggested charging a per capita fee to municipalities without independent police coverage, a move that could increase costs for rural municipalities.
Wolf has previously pushed for such a measure, arguing Pennsylvania State Police act as a de facto police force in areas with no police coverage of their own and the cost of that coverage is shouldered by the state. According to a budget briefing provided to members of the state House of Representatives, full- or part-time state police coverage of municipalities without their own police force costs $665 million per year.
In his most recent proposal, costs per person would be handled on a sliding scale – with the smallest municipalities, those with under 2,000 residents, paying $8 per resident and the largest, those with more than 20,000 residents, paying $166 per resident.
“There is disparity between rural and urban areas all across the state in many ways,” Jones Township Supervisor Laurie Storrar, who has served the municipality for decades, said. “While rural areas may benefit more from state police coverage, urban areas benefit greatly from public transportation, as just one example.”
Under the plan, six Elk County municipalities would pay the minimum $8 per capita fee – Benezette, Highland, Horton, Jones Millstone and Spring Creek townships. Jay and Ridgway townships, with populations of between 2,000 and 2,500 people, would pay a $17 per capita fee. Fox Township, with a population of just over 3,500 people, would pay a $25 per capita fee. Ridgway and Johnsonburg boroughs and the City of St. Marys provide their own municipal police coverage.
In total, the plan would cost just over $197,000 across the county.
“I would think, before accepting this invoice from the Commonwealth, talks would be held with St. Marys, Ridgway, Johnsonburg, and even Kane to see what services that amount of money could provide to the townships,” Storrar said.
Storrar said that, while she opposes small municipalities without police coverage being charged for state police services, if that does happen, the state should shoulder the burden of collecting the fee and ensure it falls on all residents, not just property owners or workers.
“Raising taxes only hits property owners; raising state/local income tax only hits workers,” she wrote in a letter to state Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, and shared with the Courier Express. “May I suggest the Commonwealth consider revising their annual income tax filing to include whatever fee may be assessed so that every Pennsylvania resident pays their fair share. Granted, many residents are exempt from filing because of low income, BUT, these people need to pay their fair share as well, so while they may be exempt from paying income taxes, they should not be exempt from paying their fair share of the State Police coverage charge.”