2009-07-09 / Local & State

Fees For Relying On Pa. State Police Clear Panel

By Mark Scolforo ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania municipalities without full-time police forces would have to pay for the state troopers who patrol their streets under a bill that a state House committee narrowly passed Wednesday.

Under the proposal, those municipalities would eventually be charged $156 per resident - or lesser amounts if they maintain their own part-time police coverage.

The sponsor, Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, said it would generate about $450 million annually to help pay for state police operations, new state police cadets, equipment, cooperative police pacts, and to maintain Pennsylvania's highways and bridges.

The bill passed the State Government Committee by a single vote, and without any Republican support.

"This is basically a targeted tax toward rural people,'' said Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford, who said people in less populous areas of the state - where the bulk of the fees would be assessed - pay taxes that support mass transit and other programs that give them little or no benefit.

Sturla said 72 percent of Pennsylvanians live in areas served by full-time local police departments, about 9 percent have a part-time force and about one in five lack local coverage entirely. He said municipal police forces can cost hundreds of dollars a year per resident to maintain.

"Even at $156 a person, it's still a bargain'' to pay the fees in his proposal, Sturla said.

Rep. Mike Carroll of Luzerne County was the only Democrat on the panel to vote against the bill.

"We're picking an individual service off the tree here and saying, 'Let's make it fair, let's make it right,''' Carroll said. "And that's fine, but we're not doing it for anything else.''

Another Democrat, Rep. Bob Freeman of Northampton County, said he was voting to send the bill to the floor but wanted a change to exempt the state's poorest municipalities.

A similar measure, which would impose a $100-per-resident tax on the largest municipalities that do not have their own police forces, died in the last legislative session. It would have produced more than $31 million a year from 21 townships in 12 counties.

Similar ideas have been floated in the Capitol for more than a decade, including a proposal supported by then-Gov. Tom Ridge in the 1990s.

In his February budget address, Gov. Ed Rendell said 18 municipalities had "shifted their tax burden for policing to the state'' in the prior year and that he would consider signing legislation such as Sturla's bill.

About 1,700 Pennsylvania municipalities do not provide local police coverage, most of them with smaller populations.

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