EDITORIAL: Pay for your police protection

York Dispatch

In York City, it costs almost $18.5 million.

In Springettsbury Township, it's $5.26 million.

In Manchester Township, $6.2 million.

In Red Lion, Peach Bottom Township, Springfield Township and 16 other municipalities in York County, it costs nothing.

Police protection is a large part of the budget for most municipalities and for the state.

Officers from several jurisdictions responded to an officer down call in the 2000 block of North George Street in Manchester Township, Monday, April 3, 2017. State police took two men into custody inside the Budget Car Rental office on the corner of North George Street and Lightner Road. No officers were injured in the incident. John A. Pavoncello photo

But for 19 of the townships and boroughs in York County, with 15 percent of the population, and half of the municipalities in the state, that huge budget item is missing.

Those are the places where all police coverage is provided by the Pennsylvania State Police.

That's the way it's always been: The mostly rural areas of the state, including eight counties that have no local police departments, are covered solely by the state police.

State police reveal cost of local police coverage: $600M

But that means those of us living in municipalities that have a separate police department or that contract with regional police are paying twice for that police protection, while those living in places covered only by state police pay for that protection solely through state taxes.

The state police also patrol highways and assist local police departments with major crimes and emergencies and with investigations that cross department boundaries.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a $25 per-capita fee for the 67 percent of Pennsylvania municipalities that rely solely or in part of the state police for their police coverage, raising more than $63 million toward the state police budget.

State Rep. P. Michael Sturla, D-Lancaster, goes further. His State Police Municipal Patrol Services Act​, which he introduced in 2015 and plans to reintroduce in this session, would charge municipalities without local police $156 per person and those with part-time police coverage $52 per person for continued coverage by the state police.

Sturla points out that 20 percent of Pennsylvania's population lives in areas solely covered by state police, and 6 percent of the population lives in areas with only part-time local coverage.

"Although it is true that all Pennsylvania residents help pay for PSP through state taxes, to the 74 percent of Pennsylvanians who also pay for their own local full-time police coverage, this is double taxation because they are essentially subsidizing 'free' police protection for the rest of the population," Sturla said in a memo introducing the bill.

Pa. House GOP releases $31.5B budget plan

The time has come for this kind of legislation. While Wolf's proposed fee of $25 is at least a start, it doesn't come close to covering the full cost of state police coverage of those areas, which is about $600 million, or half of the PSP budget, according to House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana.

Under Wolf's proposal, Red Lion, with 6,332 residents, would pay $158,300 for state police patrols, and Springfield Township, with 5,352 residents, would pay $133,800. Under Sturla's proposal, the borough would owe $987,792 and the township would pay $834,912.

In recent years, the Legislature has resorted to pulling funds from the Motor License Fund, which is supposed to pay only for transportation-related projects, to the state police to insure coverage in all areas, Sturla said.

State Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor, has said that while the GOP is considering a fee for state police coverage, it is not part of the current state budget proposal, which was released on Monday.

This is no time to continue to do things because that's how they have always been done. There are 2.5 million Pennsylvania residents who pay nothing for their police coverage. That's not fair for those who pay double for coverage.

We urge our state legislators to add a fee for that coverage into the budget for 2017-18. Sturla's bill makes sense and puts the job of paying for police on the people who are using that service.

But even the $25 fee from Wolf would be a step in the right direction.