EDITORIAL: State police fee is fair

York Dispatch Editorial Board
LOGO police fire

The free ride enjoyed by municipalities that rely solely on Pennsylvania State Police coverage should end.

But that will require state lawmakers to see through the hollow rhetoric pouring out of smaller communities and do right by taxpayers at large. 

For years, municipalities throughout York County — and Pennsylvania — have expected state taxpayers to foot the bill for local policing. And, year after year, those same townships have scuttled Gov. Tom Wolf's right-minded pitch to charge them for the reliance on state police, which would pump an estimated $104 million into state coffers.

Twenty-one local governments in York County rely almost exclusively on the state police for coverage. It's a heck of a deal for tax-averse local officials. Police departments are pricey.

Even regional solutions — York County has five regional police departments — carry hefty price tags for member municipalities.

North Codorus Township's expected $1 million share of the Southwestern Regional Police Department's 2020 budget has local officials considering leaving the department.

For its part, York City spent $21 million on police coverage in 2018. That works out to about $475 per resident. 

So it's laughable to hear officials from small municipalities already griping about the relative pittance the state would impose for the police service on which they've relied for years. Wolf's proposal would, for example, charge East Hopewell Township $41,000 annually, or $17 per resident. It would cost Warrington Township $151,000, or $34 per resident.

Thing is, a $151,000 annual expense for police coverage in a town of 4,500 is a bargain.

That also goes for in Red Lion, which pulled out of the York Area Regional Police Department in 2014, citing cost. The $315,000 the state would impose under Wolf's plan is certainly more than it's paying for state police coverage now, but less than half of what it was kicking in for the regional coverage.

Too many officials through York County and Pennsylvania are already pulling out the dreaded threat of tax hikes in an attempt to kill Wolf's plan for a modicum of fairness. And why wouldn't they? It's a strategy that has, for years, worked with members of the state's GOP-run Legislature, where "taxes" are always a bad word — regardless of the services the funds provide.

It seems opponents want the best of both worlds. Surely, they'd howl if the state police pulled out of their community. And yet, they want the taxpayers of Pennsylvania — the bulk of whom fund local police forces, too — to pick up the tab.

No one argues that Pennsylvania's smaller municipalities need police coverage. The bone of contention is about who foots the bill.

For years, Pennsylvania taxpayers have funded police service in communities that have artificially suppressed local property taxes by forgoing police forces of their own. For years, the region's smallest municipalities have axed local police forces and expected the state to pick up the slack. For years, officials in those communities have beat back any attempt at righting this rampant abuse of Pennsylvania's tax base by playing to conservative lawmakers' implicit bias.

It's unfair. It's unsustainable. It's unrealistic.

And it should end this budget cycle.