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Changes to Pennsylvania State Police funding conceivable

Municipalities could start paying for Pa. State Police under proposed House bill

LEWISTOWN — Making money and finding funding is a hot topic at all levels of government.

In the state of Pennsylvania there have been

significant conversations about the Motor License

Fund.

According to the fund, money from gasoline and other fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees and license taxes, are put into the fund for the construction, maintenance and repair of/and safety on public highways. Currently this includes funding for the Pennsylvania State Police.

Currently, the fund is having a difficult time covering all aspects under the Motor License Fund and the state Legislature has put a cap on the amount of spending for the fund.

The cap has been put in place to ensure the money goes to its intended purpose of road and bridge maintenance, not police coverage, according to information from the state of Pennsylvania.

For several years, different senators and representatives have offered solutions to prevent the fund from running out of money. Most recently, Rep. Michael Sturla, Lancaster County, proposed House Bill 959, which would require municipalities to pay a fee if they use PSP coverage as their local police patrol services.

According to information from Sturla’s bill, more than 26 percent of Pennsylvania’s population receives either a portion or all of their local police patrol coverage from the PSP. Locally, this includes all of Juniata County and 10 municipalities and/or boroughs in Mifflin County. In total, 9.4 million people are subsidizing free police protection for $3.3 million.

In 2016, PSP received $802 million from the Motor License Fund. However, now that there is a cap in place, the potential for funding could come from the state’s general fund.

Sturla’s bill would charge a fee to the municipalities using full-and-part-time PSP services. According to the bill, it will also provide a dedicated funding source for PSP to continue its local patrol services to municipalities.

House Bill 959 would phase in a fee, which in Sturla’s opinion, would “make for a more seamless transition for municipalities.”

Beginning in 2018, the fee would be assessed to the municipality on a per capita basis, which would be based on the more recent census population.

The bill would use a formula that would charge municipalities annually to replace the revenue that PSP, across the state, would be losing as a result of the cap on the Motor License Fund. The formula would charge municipalities using PSP coverage full-time a rate three-times more than those municipalities using PSP coverage part-time. By 2028, the bill could generate more than $2 billion, resulting in $10 million more services for the legislative districts.

If the bill passes, the fees would begin in 2018 with part-time costs of $3.90 and full-time costs of $11.69 on the per capita basis. For different municipalities this could mean a large sum of money going to the state for police coverage.

For example, for the Borough of Juniata Terrace, which just recently switched to full-time PSP coverage, there was a 2010 census population of 542. At a cost of $11.69 per person it could cost the borough $6,335.98 annually. However, payments would only be made quarterly at a cost of about $1,584.

“I still think it would be cheaper to stick with PSP coverage,” Doug Kepner, president of the Juniata Borough Council, said.

The repercussions if a municipality does not pay for the coverage would include being ineligible for Liquid Fuels Tax funding. Many municipalities use this money to assist in road paving projects.

In Juniata County, this bill could create trouble for municipalities. There is no form of local police coverage, instead the entire county relies solely on PSP coverage. The larger counties, like Fayette Township, could pay upwards of $40,657 annually based on the 2010 census.

In 2014, there had been a discussion between several municipalities to begin a local regional police agency, however it fell through due to cost.

Alice Gray, Juniata County commissioner, said the bill would be a tremendous burden on the Juniata County taxpayers.

“We are a very small rural county,” Gray said. “It should not be the burden of our taxpayers and municipalities to pay for the coverage.”

She said the municipalities could look at creating services, but it would still come at a cost to the taxpayers.

“The state needs to find a way to make sure state services continue to be funded,” Gray said.

PSP Public Relations Officer Cpl. Adam Reed, who works in the Harrisburg office of PSP, offered a comment for the local PSP Lewistown barracks.

“Col. [Tyree] Blocker is confident that the governor and legislators can create a plant that is best for the state,” Reed said in a phone interview.

There are however, some exceptions to the bill, which could help municipalities. According to the bill, a municipality with local part-time patrol services is exempt from the fee if the municipality:

¯ Has a population of 1,000 or less and provides or contracts patrol services for at least 40 hours per week.

¯ Has a population of more than 1,000 but less than 3,500 and provides or contracts for at least 80 hours per week.

¯ Provides or contracts for patrol services of an additional 40 hours per week over 80 hours per week for each 2,500 in population the municipality has of equal to or greater than 3,500

¯ Is a distressed municipality that does not eliminate part-time local coverage after enactment.

Some of these would come in handy for both municipalities in Mifflin and Juniata counties, if a part-time police service would be used. In Mifflin County, contracting with a local policing agency could come from three local departments, including Mifflin County Regional Police Department, Granville Township Police Department or Lewistown Borough Police Department.

“Our board of directors have talked about the bill, but no one knows what will happen for sure,” MCRPD Chief Scott Mauery said.

Mauery also said his department has a good working relationship with the PSP troopers.

“We actually have a good working relationship and cooperation between all the agencies locally,” he said. “We are all in it for the same purpose.”

If House Bill 959 were to pass in the state budget, municipalities in the Juniata Valley may have to make a decision as to what they want to do with police coverage. Some will not have to make any changes, while others may have to make many changes.

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