In his February 2019 budget address, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf proposed, for the third time since taking office, that municipalities which rely solely on the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) for their police presence should be required to start paying a fee to fund these services. According to the York Dispatch, PSP is the only police presence within 1,291 of Pennsylvania’s 2,561 municipalities. Some municipalities opt for part-time coverage from PSP, and the remainder either pay for their own police force or share the cost with a neighboring municipality. Wolf’s proposal comes as an effort to reallocate portions of the state’s highway budget toward infrastructure costs, which are presently being used, in part, to fund two thirds of PSP’s overall budget. Here is how these proposed changes may affect your municipality.
House Bill 959 and Senate Bill 741 have been introduced in the House and the Senate and would initiate Governor Wolf’s plans upon enactment. Both bills are identical, proposing a scaled range of fees to be assessed, determined by the number of residents in the municipality. Fees would begin at $8 per municipal resident for municipalities with 1,000-2,000 residents and increase in $8-9 increments every 1,000 residents up to $166 per resident for municipalities with more than 20,000 residents. The municipality’s number of residents would be calculated based on the figures from the most recent federal decennial census. The fee schedule would also be subject to increase year over year. This increase, if it occurred, would be calculated on an annual basis before July 1 and would be set by the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers for the Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington area (Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware).
Distressed municipalities under the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act, P.L. 246, No. 47, would be exempt from these fee schedules despite their reliance solely on PSP for police protection. Classification as a distressed municipality would be determined by the Department of Community and Economic Development. If a municipality is not distressed but fails to comply with the requirements of the proposed act, the state would reserve the right to offset any state funds allocated to the municipality against the amounts owed toward the state police assessment.
The Bills provide that costs under the fee schedule cannot be passed on to the taxpayers within the affected municipalities. Despite this assertion, however, the Bills allow municipalities to enact ordinances that impose and collect fees at rates sufficient to enable them to pay the dues required under the proposed acts. The only catch is that any such assessment could not be imposed on a per capita basis. This is relatively good news for the coffers of certain municipalities that would be hit particularly hard if either of these bills were passed into law. Specifically, Hempfield Township and Harborcreek would be left paying almost half of their municipal budgets into the forced contribution to PSP if either Bill were signed into law. This would leave these, and other similarly situated municipalities, either looking into establishing their own police force or increasing taxes for their residents.
It is because of this difficult choice that Governor Wolf’s plans have remained in flux since he assumed office. Many of the municipalities that currently rely solely on PSP for their police protection have a majority of Republican voters who believe that their contributions toward state taxes should be sufficient to justify receipt of PSP protection; a further imposition of fees would be viewed as a double tax. Since the House and Senate are both currently controlled by Republican majorities, Governor Wolf’s plan will likely remain a mere proposal for the foreseeable future. Representatives from these heavily affected municipalities are hesitant to support such financially burdensome Bills for their constituents. As a result, these Bills likely will not see enactment any time soon.
With contribution from Sarah Rothermel, J.D. Widener Law Commonwealth.