Would state police fee break local budgets?

Would state police fee break local budgets?

Over a decade ago we wrote a Brief on a legislative proposal to charge a $100 per resident fee for municipalities with 10,000 or more residents that relied on the state police for local service.  With 2,500 municipalities in the state, about half had no local police force and did not pay another local/regional force for service.  Instead they utilized the state police for free coverage.

That situation has not changed, and that has led to the introduction of two pieces of legislation that propose a sliding fee scale (from $8 to $166 per resident) that municipalities with full-time state police coverage (about 1,279 municipalities–another 420 get part-time coverage) would have to pay.  If the proposal becomes law, the fee would be adjusted in the future based on the Consumer Price Index.  Municipalities in Act 47 distressed status would not be subject to the fee.

There are three municipalities in Allegheny County that receive police service from the state–Haysville, Glenfield and East Pittsburgh.  All three communities are in the lowest range of population proposed by the legislation (1 to 2,000 people based on the 2010 Census) and would be subject to a fee of $8 per resident.  Haysville (70 people) and Glenfield (205 people) would see bills of $560 and $1,640, respectively.  East Pittsburgh just dissolved its municipal force in December and switched to state police coverage.  With 1,882 residents the tab would come to $15,056.

Compared to total expenditures reported by the municipalities to the Department of Community and Economic Development in 2017, the proposed fee would represent a fraction of spending. In Haysville it would be less than 1 percent.  In East Pittsburgh it would amount to 10 percent of spending.  In 2017 that municipality reported spending $409,737 on police services in-house, or about $217 per resident, considerably higher than the $8 proposed under the legislation.

One municipality that it will be interesting to hear from will be Hempfield Township in Westmoreland County.  It has 43,000 residents but no municipal force.  It would be subject to the highest fee level of $166 per resident (for municipalities of 20,000 or more people), which would total $7.1 million annually (its general fund budget for 2019 is $13 million).

An alternative for municipalities paying a state police fee would be to look for savings from contracting with other municipalities for police coverage.