Hempfield, Unity would have to pay millions for state police coverage under Wolf proposal | TribLIVE.com

Hempfield, Unity would have to pay millions for state police coverage under Wolf proposal

Megan Tomasic

Wolf budget

Hempfield could pay almost $7 million for state police coverage under Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal — yet another attempt to collect from municipalities that rely on troopers rather than their own police department.

Hempfield is one of nearly 2,500 municipalities across Pennsylvania without a local police department.

The proposed fee is based off a sliding scale and depends on the number of residents in each community, ranging from $8 per person for a community with fewer than 2,000 residents to $166 for municipalities with more than 20,000 residents.

“This has put a strain on their ability to respond in these areas, as (state police) assume significant additional responsibility,” Wolf said in his proposal. “To address this inequity, the 2019-20 budget assesses a fee for every person residing in a municipality without local police coverage.”

Officials estimated in 2017 that it costs state police almost $600 million to provide services to municipalities without a full-time force. That equates to about $234 per resident in those communities. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, 25 municipalities in Westmoreland County rely on state police coverage, along with three in Allegheny County.

This year, the goal is to add 100 officers to the state police ranks. The plan is months away from being negotiated with the Pennsylvania General Assembly, which will start after the June 30 budget deadline.

In Hempfield, which has a population of 42,300 and is the largest Pennsylvania municipality without its own police force, the $7 million cost adds up to almost half the budget.

Hempfield Manager Jason Winters said the township supervisors would have to reopen the conversation of establishing a local department or completely rework their budget to account for the fee.

Four state police vehicles regularly patrol and respond to calls within Hempfield.

Like Hempfield, Derry Township relies on state police for coverage of 14,500 residents. Under the proposed plan, officials would have to pay more than $1.68 million.

“I’m totally against it,” said Vince DeCario, township supervisor and sitting chairman. “I feel everyone pays taxes, the state taxes — that’s your help for the state police already.”

As a rural community, Derry Township should not be compared to areas like Hempfield when it comes to police coverage, DeCario said.

Unity and South Huntingdon also rely on state police coverage.

As the third-largest municipality in the state without a local police department, Unity would have to pay more than $3.6 million for its 22,000 residents.

South Huntingdon would have to pay $42 per person for its population of 5,600 people, equating to $235,200.

Unity and South Huntingdon supervisors could not be reached for comment.

On the northern end of Westmoreland County, Oklahoma Borough has a population under 1,000 and relies on full coverage from state police.

“We don’t really need a police force here at all,” Mayor Don Emerick said. “We don’t have that much crime. I’m not in favor of charging municipalities a fee.”

Emerick said council members could add the potential $8,000 fee into their budget, but “it would have an impact.”

East Pittsburgh in Allegheny County recently disbanded its police department, a years-long conversation that intensified after the June 19 fatal shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Antwon Rose II.

The department faced retention issues prior to the disbandment, which left it with four part-time officers and a chief for about two months. At the time of Rose’s shooting, the department was double in size and paid officers about $15 per hour.

Now, East Pittsburgh is temporarily relying on state police coverage while they work with neighboring municipalities to create a regional police force.

With a population of 1,500, East Pittsburgh officials would have to pay about $12,000 for state police coverage under Wolf’s proposed budget.

While Hempfield officials are concerned about the proposal from a financial standpoint, Winters said similar plans have been presented in recent years and have not passed.

During the 2017-18 budget process, Wolf proposed municipalities without a police department pay $25 per resident. But the plan did not pass after it received pushback from communities across the state.

The fee would have generated about $30 million for state police, which, again, would have allowed the state to hire 100 new officers.

Wolf again tried and failed to pass the $25 fee in the 2018-19 budget.

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .

File photo from July 2017 at the state police station in Greensburg.
State Police Trooper Sean Kelley makes a traffic stop along Route 119 in South Greensburg to issue warnings about tinted windows to drivers Friday, April 27, 2018. Troopers were only issuing warnings on Friday to raise awareness about equipment violations motorists might not know about.
Categories: News | Westmoreland
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