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Unity Township braces for $25-per-resident state police fee

Jeff Himler
| Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, 11:50 p.m.

Unity officials anticipate a major drain on local funds if Gov. Tom Wolf's plan to charge the township for state police coverage advances from proposal to policy, and Supervisor Michael O'Barto suggests the township start planning for that potential scenario.

O'Barto on Thursday proposed that the township form a task force to gauge residents' sentiments and weigh alternate options to paying for state patrols.

As part of his 2017-18 budget proposal, Wolf would like Unity and other municipalities that lack a local police force to pay $25 per resident for state patrols.

“We need to look at every option that may be out there, or we can just put our heads in the sand,” O'Barto said. “We need to start being very proactive when it comes to this issue. I see it coming down the road, and it's a train that's not going to stop.”

Based on figures from a few years ago, O'Barto suggested it would cost Unity up to $8 million to start its own police force, an expense he said the township can't afford. But he also is concerned about the $560,000 Unity would have to pay annually for law enforcement for its 22,403 residents under Wolf's proposal.

Unity has never been involved in a study to determine the feasibility of a regional police force, O'Barto said.

He expressed interest in a program proposed several years ago by state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield. Ward said she has reintroduced a related bill that would allow municipalities to pay for state troopers designated to serve their communities.

O'Barto said he's heard no complaint about state police response times in the township, but he noted Ward's contractual program would add troopers rather than merely retaining the existing complement. Also, he said, the annual cost per trooper under such a contract was estimated at $100,000, which he said would be cheaper in total for Unity than the governor's proposed per capita fee.

Supervisors Chairman John Mylant said a task force would provide a way for the township to keep communications open with residents on the policing issue.

O'Barto suggested several retired state troopers who reside in the township might be candidates for serving on the proposed panel.

Paul McCommons, who served with the state police for more than 30 years, was a police union leader and is running for township supervisor, suggested the state should continue to pay for troopers because of the many state highways they patrol in local municipalities.

“I don't necessarily disagree with what you want to look at, but you'd better make sure you look at all the situations of what they want to do,” he told O'Barto. “What's being done now is politics,” he said, referring to the proposed state policing fee.

In other business, the supervisors appointed Michaelene Smolleck as deputy tax collector. She would serve if the locally elected collector, Mark Burkardt, would become unable to fulfill his duties.

The township approved low per-gallon bids for fuel received from Glassmere — $1.609 for gasoline and $1.726 for diesel fuel.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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