Wolf proposes new police funding model

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 3/4/20

HONESDALE, PA — Gov. Tom Wolf’s third and latest attempt to fund the PA State Police could play into Honesdale Borough’s ongoing conversation regarding police coverage.

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Wolf proposes new police funding model

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HONESDALE, PA — Gov. Tom Wolf’s third and latest attempt to fund the PA State Police could play into Honesdale Borough’s ongoing conversation regarding police coverage.

Laid out in the 2020-21 budget proposal, the plan would call on all 2,560 municipalities in the commonwealth to chip in an amount based on how reliant each municipality is on state trooper coverage, among other factors like median household income and population size. This is a more complex approach compared to past funding strategies, like Wolf’s 2017 proposal of a $25 per capita flat fee for boroughs and townships without their own police force.

The new proposal, which is estimated to raise about $135 million a year, is also the governor’s attempt to reduce the state police force’s reliance on the Motor License Fund. His administration has received much public criticism after the auditor general’s 2019 findings that $2.8 million had been taken from the Motor License Fund and put toward state police.

An online resource from www.pennlive.com calculates what every municipality in PA would pay under this new model. Rural areas without a police force of their own would tend to pay more than major cities. The majority of townships in Wayne County do not have their own police forces and the vast majority of them wind up with the same figure of $31 per person, much higher than urban areas like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg which would only have to pay around $1 or $2 per person.

The Borough of Honesdale, which is unique both for its relatively large population and for having its own police department, would only pay one-tenth per resident compared to almost all the townships in Wayne.

Honesdale’s ability to provide full-time coverage, however, is less than assured. The council went back and forth on the issue over the several months it took to draft 2020’s budget. Police chief Rick Southerton has been vocal about the understaffed police force for years. With only three full-time, active officers and a handful of part-timers, the department is stretched thin. A recent PA Supreme Court case also called into question whether the borough would be able to continue utilizing part-timers as heavily as they have been.

Many solutions were discussed over the course of the budget talks, at one extreme was hiring as many as five additional officers; on the other was demoting the department to a part-time police force. For a brief period, the council chose to cut the local police down to one eight-hour shift, and rely on state troopers for the rest of the time. By the next meeting, however, the council reversed that decision, after Southerton promised that he could use the manpower available to cover all the shifts.

Given Honesdale’s fluid dependence on state police, it’s unclear how much the borough might have to pay if Wolf’s proposal went into effect. The price would be about $3 per resident if Honesdale continues to provide its own full-time coverage, but that would likely increase if Honesdale reverts back to increased state police coverage.

The council did not comment on Wolf’s proposal, except for council president Mike Augello’s remarks that he would be “shocked” if it became a reality and for now will “assume it’s not going to happen and act accordingly.”

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