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Officials against $25-per-person state police fee find little support

| Tuesday, April 18, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania State Police cruisers parked in the garage at the barracks located in Hempfield Twp. near Greensburg on Aug. 25, 2016.

Officials from several Westmoreland County townships that may have to pay $25 per resident for state police service didn't receive any sympathy Tuesday from others whose community police departments cost much more.

“Twenty-five dollars is not good enough. You don't buy any vehicles, fuel, tires, pay for maintenance or buy vests,” Allegheny Township Supervisor Joseph Ferguson told Hempfield Supervisor Doug Weimer and Unity Supervisor Mike O'Barto, whose municipalities rely solely on state police protection.

“If I only had to pay $25 per resident, that would be great,” said Ferguson, noting that Allegheny Township pays $125 per resident to support a force of nine full-time officers with a budget of about $1.2 million.

Gov. Tom Wolf proposed the $25 per capita fee as part of his 2017-18 budget under consideration in Harrisburg. The state has a June 30 deadline for adopting a spending plan, but it has failed to meet that deadline in recent years.

The debate among 17 representatives from nine second-class townships was held at the Hempfield Township Municipal Building. The $25-per-capita fee would generate about $30 million more for the state police, which would provide the funding to hire about 100 additional officers, the state has said.

Representatives from municipalities with police departments pointed out that they not only pay for their own police protection, but also for protection for municipalities such as Hempfield and Unity via state taxes.

“We have our own police force. They have their own police force — it's called the state police” and other towns are paying for them, said Washington Township Supervisor Joseph Olszewski.

Unity is the third-largest municipality in the state without local police protection. Even though it does not pay for police, O'Barto said it is very likely the state gets more tax money from its 22,000 residents and businesses than the estimated $580,000 it would cost to pay for state police coverage.

Likening the state's push for per-capita state police fees to a moving train, O'Barto said before the meeting that the “train” had been moving slowly the past few years, “but the train is moving a lot faster now.”

Hempfield, with a population of 42,300, is the largest municipality in the state without local police. Under the governor's proposal, Hempfield would pay about $1 million for state police.

Hempfield does not intend to start its own police force, nor does it wish to use the services of Greensburg city police, Weimer said after the 90-minute meeting. He said residents are pleased with the state police and will rely on them and pay any fee, if required.

O'Barto, who is leaving office at the end of the year, said there is a possibility of forming a regional police department. Nearby Derry Borough and Latrobe have police departments.

Mt. Pleasant Township Supervisor Duane Hutter said there would be little benefit for the townships to pay a $25-per-capita fee because “we're not going to get any more help than we get (now).”

Even if municipalities such as Hempfield and Unity wanted to start their police departments, Ligonier Township Manager Terry Carcella said the big challenge would be in hiring the right people for the job.

“Where are you going to find somebody? You can't do it (build a police force) overnight,” Carcella said.

Carcella predicted that Ligonier Borough and Ligonier Township, which are studying the possibility of creating a regional department, will do so.

“If we do nothing, our costs will rise,” Carcella said.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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