Friday, July 28, 2017

Taking Care of Business

Nathan Schadler & David Maris
Surrounded by outdoor patio furniture, grills, fire pits, and umbrellas in the showroom of Salter’s Outdoor Oasis in Eagleville, 30 or so Lower Providence small business owners have begun to meet once a month to hammer out how their newly-formed organization, the Lower Providence Business Association, will operate and to fine-tune their plans to persuade Lower Providence Township officials to create a better environment for new and existing businesses in the Township.

Their outdoor surroundings were appropriate considering the reason this group of business owners have banded together. They feel like they’re on the outside looking in, subject to the mercy of the Township’s Board of Supervisors or the whims of code enforcement personnel, and what they view as conflicting, overly restrictive, and frequently arbitrary ordinances that make it more difficult and expensive to open and operate a business in LP. They’re hoping to find out if those throwaway statements on political campaign literature about wanting to attract, encourage and grow businesses in the Township have any substance to them, and find common ground with Township officials to make LP more business friendly.

Statistics provided by Lower Providence Township indicate that since at least 2010, the number of new businesses opening in the Township (as indicated by the number of business licenses initiated or renewed) has decreased every year since (with the exception of a small uptick of 4 businesses in the 2012-2013 time frame), from a high of 644 as of December 31, 2010 to 578 as of July 2017.

Certainly, there may be other factors at play, such as the state or national economy or conditions in specific industries, but this isn’t a positive trend.  Whether a business stays or goes depends on many things: besides the aforementioned economy or industry, factors such as whether they own their property or do they have a landlord, and if so, does the landlord end a lease or does the tenant find better/cheaper quarters, or if the owners are planning to retire soon. Often, the Township doesn’t even find out if a tenant is considering closing or moving until too late.  For example, a business may not want their landlord to know in case new arrangements fall through.

Part of the problem is local.  Over time, there have been some township supervisors who weren’t exactly business friendly. This manifested in several ways. One’s philosophy was that LP is a ‘bedroom community’ that shouldn’t have much business here at all (similar to Worcester Township). Others have helped run off attractive propositions deemed too close to his or her own residence. In addition, policies and ordinances implemented over the years that, either intentionally or otherwise, impose numerous hurdles and costs to operating here have had the effect of discouraging some potential businesses from coming here at all, or into giving up and moving elsewhere later on.

The LPBA aims to partner with the Township to help improve the climate for business in LP. One of two driving forces behind the LPBA is its president, David Maris, owner of Marco Motors in the Evansburg section of the Township. Dave’s dad retired recently and he and his brother took over the family  business. Maris, who’s been an active member of and ambassador for the Perkiomen Valley Chamber of Commerce since 2013, told me he’s ‘known for years’ the Township needed a group to engage the Township specifically on issues of importance to its local business owners.

Maris, named 2017 Perkiomen Valley Chamber of Commerce Member of the Year for his contributions to the chamber and the community at large, says he got the idea to get the LPBA kick-started after a Facebook discussion early this year about local businesses on the popular “Living in Lower Providence” page, and subsequently put out a feeler for how many would be interested in such an advocacy organization. He reports he got about 40 responses back with contact information almost immediately.  So far about 80 LP business entities have expressed interest in the group, although not all have been able to make each meeting.

Maris' affable, easy-going personality belies his tenacity. He says that he participated in LP’s prior attempts to address the concerns of Township businesses. A few years ago the Township formed a ‘business development committee’ and he was invited to participate. Meeting during the workday was often inconvenient, and when he attended there were 4-5 local banks represented, numerous realtors, 4-5 construction/development entities, and only 5 or 6 ‘brick and mortar’, customer-facing businesses. He recalls telling Bill Roth, Director of Special Projects and Technology for the Township, that representation of Township businesses ‘wasn’t really present’ and nothing really came of that group from an advocacy perspective.

Flash forward to November 2016, when a similar effort seemed to be launched by the Township.  Attended by ‘a few more bankers, and an attorney’, Maris said there seemed to be fewer participants overall.  He discovered that this effort was more focused around the ‘Team Montco’ initiative, an economic development partnership with the County, and their projects to promote the Vo Tech schools and offerings of help from the Temple School of Business and other similar resources. Maris felt it was nice to be connected to possible resources, but it wasn’t really an advocacy group specifically focused on the needs of local, Township–based businesses.

The other driving force is local attorney and former Montgomery County prosecutor Nathan Schadler of the firm Conway Schadler in Eagleville. Schadler, 38, serves as LPBA vice-president and, together with his law partner, Ken Conway, drafted and filed the corporate formation documents for the group.
Schadler, a former assistant Montgomery County district attorney who headed up the narcotics and firearms units in that office, also was cross-sworn and served as an assistant US attorney. Along with being a former D1 competitive swimmer (and now a triathlete), you get the sense from talking with him that he’s formidable and competitive, bristling with energy looking for an outlet. Schadler points in part to that swimming background for teaching him skills like perseverance, and learning to “put his head down, work hard and push through…that every day is not easy and you have to fight through the tough ones…it translates in terms of getting people through lulls, that if something slows down it’s not dead”.

He also credits his prosecutorial career for teaching him the values of collaboration, a high level of detailed planning, focus, and learning how to work with a variety of types of personalities and egos.

Upon his departure from the DA’s office in 2013, District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman praised Schadler for his work.  “Nate’s been a gladiator in the office for nearly a decade,” she said. “While I’m sorry to see him go, I wish him all the best in this next adventure, in his life and in his career and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.” 

Schadler and his partner decided to open their law practice in Eagleville after considering several options, and opened in early 2016. Subsequently, Schadler set up a meeting with Township supervisor Patrick Duffy to introduce himself and say ‘hey, we’re here, we’ve heard some things, we want to get along and do well in this community”.  He came away very inspired after speaking with Duffy and literally went right back to his office and wrote a letter and sent it to several hundred business owners in the Township, including Dave Maris, about the idea for a business association. Schadler says “Dave called me up, said ‘Can we meet, I’ve been trying to do something with this idea for awhile, and it petered out, how can we get something going?’ And it went from there.”

Both Dave and Nathan are inspirational and motivating speakers who are passionate about the LPBA, and the energy in the room when they speak is palpable. They have a genuine rapport and mutual respect; Schadler likes to joke that he refers to Maris as ‘the grand poobah of Lower Providence’ because he seems to know everybody. But even though the group is growing and they have ambitious ideas, they want to go slowly, preferring to ‘get it right’ rather than rushing just to say they got something accomplished.

Issues discussed at recent meetings included myriad concerns. Many in the group feel the Township, perhaps unintentionally, is more of an impediment than a help. Signs were a big one: 
  • Many members have experienced signage issues. Schadler, who described the township sign ordinances as “nightmarishly convoluted” challenged the Township supervisors to actually read it and make sense of it, noted that they are conflicting and vary wildly depending on where a business is physically located.
The sign ordinances appear to have been done piecemeal over the years and not with an eye to a comprehensive township-wide view, and the group feels that, at a minimum, it needs to be simplified for clarity and consistency. For example, members cited a recent public flap over a sign message posted on the “Adult World” sign in Collegeville that some residents found offensive (and other residents found hilarious – the discussion thread on Facebook was funny but has since been deleted) and yet the Township apparently had no issue with the product advertised for sale. Across town, a tanning business wanted to use an image of a woman on their sign that showed a belly button, and the Township deemed it too offensive and wouldn’t approve it.

After researching the Township’s sign ordinance, Schadler found he could literally make a case for, or against, any sign anywhere in the Township, and that the Township had enough wiggle room that they could approve or deny a sign based on arbitrary preferences using criteria that had nothing to do with the actual ordinances.

  • Along the same vein, members didn’t understand why the small yard signs promoting various nonprofits or upcoming events seem to be OK and are everywhere, but they are prohibited from even posting a sign that reflects a “Best of Montco” designation, which should be sources of pride and contribute to drawing new visitors to the Township.

 Code enforcement and ordinance clarity, as well as the inspection process, were additional concerns:

  • Members say it seems as though they’re never ‘done’ with the process of opening a business or making changes. They cited an initial inspection for a use & occupancy permit or business license where issues are raised and resolved, only to result in additional items to address on subsequent visits (often when a different code inspector from the original one is involved), contributing to unnecessary delays and cost before they can even open their door. They’d like the process to be streamlined so all issues are identified at one time, instead of issues popping up that were never on the radar during prior inspections.

Their observation is that the ordinances/code needs to be simplified because nobody is sure what they are allowed to do. It needs to be more clear and flexible; as written now they believe the Township can prohibit just about everything if they are so inclined, and that it gives the Township too much power to make arbitrary decisions. And, the overcomplication tends to create inequities where some will fare better than others.   

A member wondered out loud if the Township makes money on this process. The answer is yes, to some degree: there is usually an application cost to bring requests for variances or other relief before the Zoning Hearing Board and/or the Board of Supervisors. That cost can be considerable as well as time-consuming. You’ll also incur attorneys’ fees if you hire counsel to represent you.

Another member stated that he has the impression that “the Board of Supervisors doesn’t understand the actual impacts of these ordinances on the business community” and asked what their backgrounds are. He asked “Are any of them business owners?” And back to the signage issue again: “I don’t understand why promoting my business is bad.”

The group wants the Township to understand that ‘short term gains in terms of the money made from seeking relief from overly restrictive ordinances costs them in long-term deficits if businesses close or move out of the Township.’ They want the Township to see that there is no benefit to the Township in antagonizing the business community and sustaining a reputation as being unfriendly to local businesses. As Schadler succinctly put it: “They need to understand that they might get a couple hundred dollars in fees but forego an eternity of goodwill”.

Bottom line, the LPBA wants to partner with the Township in good faith to solve problems, to know what to expect when opening or operating a business, to gain consistency in processes and decisions, and arrive at reasonable solutions. Schadler stressed that they want no special treatment or guarantees for specific results, but at least to get a fair shake and a seat at the table with an opportunity to be heard.

What kind of reception has LPBA gotten from the Township? Roth said that “With respect to LPBA, the supervisors are happy to speak with them and provide whatever help they need. They were initially a little wary, not sure of what their approach was going to be. The Township doesn’t want to be involved with running it in any way. They want it to grow organically. The supervisors know they have issues with signage and other things, but they see them as advocates for the virtues of Lower Providence, that it’s a positive place for businesses.”

Patrick Duffy, the supervisor several have pointed to as one of the catalysts for the creation of the LPBA, in that he initially helped bring Maris and Schadler together, said “It’s sort of strange that we didn’t already have a business association, but it’s paying dividends already. They’re getting involved in giving input into ordinance drafting, especially for sign ordinances that not only fit the aesthetics of the Township but also that meet their needs”.

He looks forward to working with them. “We have a good dynamic with them, the flow of information and ideas can readily be exchanged, they can bring new perspectives to what we’re trying to do. If we do our job and help keep existing businesses here, there won’t be such a need to fill empty buildings. Success begets success and attracts others when they see the businesses that are already here thriving.”

He continued, “Some business operators may not live in the Township so we don’t run into them at the gas or grocery store. It’s helpful to know what the burdens and barriers are to be successful here…so we can make sure code enforcement is business friendly”

Jason Sorgini, Board of Supervisors vice president and candidate for re-election in November, told me “The Board of Supervisors has shown in both word and deed that we are committed to supporting thoughtful business development in Lower Providence. We are excited to partner with the newly created Lower Providence Business Association to promote the businesses that already exist in our community and to show potential business owners that Lower Providence is a wonderful place to locate their commercial business. The leadership of the business association has been in continuous conversation with our Township Business Development Committee and has shared many positive aspects they find abuot doing business in Lower Providence, as well as some constructive feedback on how we as a Board can do more to promote our local businesses. We are looking forward to continuing t this awesome conversation and to doing all we can do as Supervisors to ensure the success of businesses in our Township.”

Board chairman Colleen Eckman stated in March: “We are thrilled at their interest and the things we can accomplish together. The successes of our businesses impact our residents, and that’s our mission here at the Township, to make sure things are running smoothly”.

Other attempts at similar organizations have been tried previously. The Park Pointe At Lower Providence Business Association, to have been made up of businesses in the corporate center between Egypt, Rittenhouse and South Trooper Road, never really took off.  It was originally intended to operate similarly to a Chamber of Commerce and be a business advocacy group. PJM Interconnection made their auditorium available and offered to help with other aspects. Roth said this group was comprised of primarily Monday-Friday, 8-5 type larger corporations rather than mom & pop shops who are more local and embedded in community. In addition, bigger corporations tend to be aligned with other groups that are more attendant to their specific concerns, such as the Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association, in order to address relevant issues such as commuter issues for their employees.  

Currently the LPBA is solidifying how the organization will operate, such as who will be eligible to become a member; how elections and terms for their officers and executive board will work; fundraising, promoting and marketing the LPBA itself and its member businesses; designing a logo, and setting up its website and content.  

A steering committee has been established to prioritize issues they want to address with the Township and to facilitate having Township officials speak at future meetings to educate and provide updates.  Chair Carol Foley, owner of, along with committee members Gerry Warner of Security 5 (residential and commercial security systems), Joe Ferarro of FindANerd (computer repair) and Margaret Vechy, a realtor with Keller Williams, spearhead this effort.  

The LPBA introduced themselves to the Board of Supervisors at a March 2017 meeting and has already participated in one staff solicitor meeting with the Township thus far. Schadler reported it was very positive, that “a lot of the meeting appeared to be them feeling out our attitude toward the Township”, and that Township officials were very receptive to coming and speaking to the group. Going forward, their meetings will be the second Wednesday of each month starting at 6 pm; locations will rotate.

After attending several LPBA meetings, I believe they’ve got great energy and ideas, and I’m convinced they’re going to do great things to promote our business community and showcase the fine vendors and businesses located here in Lower Providence. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Oh The Places You’ll Go! En Route To The 2017 Methacton Post Prom

A whirlwind trip around the globe awaited Methacton High School students planning to attend the 2017 post-prom event, themed ‘Oh The Places You’ll Go! (after the Dr. Seuss story by the same name) but when they arrived, they needed no passports or luggage,  only a desire to have fun and stay out of harm’s way.

The same goes for the more than 1000 family, friends and curious attendees from other school districts who lined up well in advance of the 6:30 community walk-through start time to learn about this amazing endeavor and to get a sneak preview of the decorations, activities and features of this year’s domestic and internationally-themed event, many of whom will have kids gracing the newly-converted high school hallways in a few short hours when the prom is over.

2017 marks the 18th year of the premier post-prom event in Montgomery County, attracting close to 100% participation by students attending the prom (93% of prom attendees as of last year, and between 800-900 students in total, some of whom do not attend the prom) and the aforementioned 1000+ visitors who take the walk-through preview tour. Created to give students a safe place to spend the overnight hours after prom, it’s blossomed over the years to be something students AND parents look forward to experiencing.

Post-prom came about largely because studies show that two of the most dangerous nights for high school students are the evenings following the prom and graduation. As soon as the prom ends, students spend the entire night inside the high school in a safe, drug and alcohol free environment. Free to all junior and senior high school students and their dates, attendees are expected to sign in and stay all night – if they want to leave, parents are called and the students are not released until they arrive.  Students are free to go after 5:30 am but must stay til the end to be eligible to win awesome door prizes.

The high school interior becomes virtually unrecognizable, having been transformed into an entirely new environment. Activities available throughout the night include a casino, sporting events such as dodgeball and volleyball tournaments, a coffee house with entertainment, inflatables, a bull riding machine, an arcade, laser tag, a comedy/improve group, hypnotist, yoga, trike races, and roving performers. There’s even a dash of reality TV in the form of Cash Cab. Food is available throughout the evening for students and volunteers.

There’s no cost to the students to attend – all expenses incurred in making the props and decorations, providing food and entertainment, and the prizes that are offered to those who stay all night are paid for by generous donations of hundreds of hours of time, and cash, goods and services from community sponsors, businesses, organizations and families – this year’s operating budget topped $46,000. Several fundraisers are also held during the year to raise funds, such as the annual summer golf outing at Shannondell, and the adult dinner dance held in the wintertime.

Enjoy this compilation set to music (via You-Tube) of the gorgeous decorations created for “Oh The Places You’ll Go”, and these fun facts provided by the post-prom committee:

·       - It takes more than 450 volunteers to work the night of post-prom, for setup, manning the functions and security at post-prom, and clean up the next morning.

·       - 61 local businesses and over 100 families provided cash donations for this year’s post-prom

·      -  Post-prom is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit volunteer organization and is not affiliated with Home & School or Methacton High School.

·       - Each year a student logo design contest is held, with the winner receiving two free tickets to the prom.

·        -Over 65 volunteers work behind the scenes starting in October each year lending their various talents to design, build and create the decorations and displays for post-prom.

·        -Post-prom are loaned out to seven other Methacton School District schools, five surrounding local school districts, and many local community groups.

·        -The post-prom Education Committee sends notes to all of the local florists and tuxedo shops to tuck into students’ corsages, boutonnieres and jacket pockets reminding students to make good choices on prom night and thanks those shops who’ve agreed to help us keep our students safe.

It’s never too late to donate to support this very worthy cause. If you’d like to contribute, mail your tax-deductible check payable to Methacton Post Prom to: PO Box 39, Eagleville, PA, 19408-0039.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Museum of the American Revolution: Falling Out of Valley Forge and Marching Into Philadelphia

If you don’t walk out of Philadelphia's newest jewel, the new Museum of the American Revolution (MOAR) with a new understanding of and appreciation for the sacrifices people suffered in order to settle the colonies and fight for independence, in the process creating a new nation and becoming a new player on the world political and economic scene,you've missed one of the main points of the experience.  (Click here for a visual tour).

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a founding-members only preview grand opening of the new Museum. I left with a renewed sense of awe that, despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles and odds stacked against the American colonists in taking on the most powerful and wealthiest empire in the world, and the sheer luck - and unlikely alliances  - that emerged to help us prevail, We the People somehow accomplished something unbelievable and unheard of – a republic form of government in which the people rule themselves.

We may have drafted the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776, but we didn’t gain true freedom until 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, and even then for some time thereafter the greatest focus was on the rights of each of the thirteen colonies. Having just thrown off a far-away powerful central government (a monarchy), Americans were in no mood to even consider the kind of strong central government eventually framed by the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. This museum tells these tales, and many other, lesser-known facts and stories surrounding the American Revolution.

The path that the MOAR took to arrive at its new home at Third and Walnut in Philadelphia, and the length of time it took to accomplish it, lasted for more years than the actual revolution itself, and similarly, was no small feat against many obstacles over a long span of time. The gorgeous facility is a testament to the tenacity and dedication of its champions in finding a home for it, getting it built, and finally, at long last, dramatically displaying the artifacts and paying appropriate tribute to the War for Independence.

Efforts to bring the Museum to our area here in the suburbs date back as far as 1999 when the National Park Service and the MOAR (formerly known as the American Revolution Center, or ARC) collaborated on plans for a museum next to Valley Forge National Historical Park’s (VFNHP) welcome center.

In 2005, however, the ARC announced plans for its own museum and conference center two miles away. Philanthroper (and new chairman of the museum’s board of directors) H.F.”Gerry” Lenfest was brought in to try to move the project forward. He personally ponied up the $4.1M to purchase 78 acres of privately owned land adjacent to the VFNHP from the St. Gabe’s protectorate (Archdiocese of Philadelphia) in Lower Providence Township the day after the LPT Planning Commission approved the ARC’s request to rezone the parcel to allowed development beyond a museum.

The reasons for pulling the plug on the VFNHP location were referenced as park service red tape, federal fundraising concerns – the ARC board was nervous about the Park Service’s difficulties funding the maintenance of property and collections they already owned – and size restrictions on the proposed building footprint.

toppling a statue of King George III
However, the residents of primarily the Audubon portion of the Township (and other nonresidents outside the Township) were opposed to the development of the 78 acres. What soured many Audubon residents at the time on the project was the addition of a hotel and conference center and several small retail options to the project, added to help fund the cost of running the Museum and preserve the collection going forward. Also, at the time, the new four-way cloverleaf at 422 was just a fantasy, and traffic in Audubon, already difficult and of necessity directed through Audubon for access to and from the Route 422/Oaks, was envisioned to only worsen with the addition of the traffic the Museum would undoubtedly bring. Zoning challenges and legal battles ensued.

After spending millions of dollars developing plans and fighting in court, and years’ worth of time and effort, in 2009 Lenfest and the rest of the executives on the board realized that they had to rise above the local political squabbles and courtroom drama – that getting this long-envisioned project built and open to the public was of far more importance than the longer-term legal and political efforts of trying to convince a suburban community that it should want a project of national significance that would put it on the map and bring jobs, tax and tourist dollars to its coffers.

Lenfest and Ed Rendell brokered a deal for a land swap:  the ARC would abandon their plans to build the museum in or near VFNHP and moved the project to Center City. The new museum would be located at 3rd and Chestnut Street in downtown Philadelphia, within a 55-acre federal park space, on the site of the former welcome center built for the 1976 bicentennial, in exchange for the National Park Service receiving ownership of the 78-acre parcel of private land owned by the American Revolution Center within the boundary of VFNHP.

(Many, many articles [including my own] have been written detailing the headaches of trying to work with the National Park Service, and in trying to get the project built here in LP, which I won’t revisit here – Google or check out some of the links at the bottom of this article if you want more information).

Locally, I played a role in this effort circa 2008-2009 as a member of and chair of our Zoning Hearing Board that conducted many evenings’ worth of hearings, listening to hours of witness testimony and reviewing over one hundred exhibits in a validity challenge to the zoning of the 78-acre parcel. At one point there were a total of ten attorneys representing various parties in the hearings!

 Also, one of our current township supervisors, Colleen Eckman, had a starring role, arguably launching her local political career on this one “not in my backyard” issue, after becoming a vocal opponent of the project (which would have been located not far from her home in Audubon) and also serving as one of the witnesses in the zoning validity challenge hearings questioning the proper zoning of the parcel.

So – at long last, in 2017, here it is and here we are. Lower Providence's loss is Philly's gain. Much has already  (here, here,  here,  hereherehere, and here -- both in the NY Times and Philly Inquirer) been published about the Museum since it opened, detailing its displays and collection.  Maybe it's just that as a member of DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution, who donated the painting "Siege at Yorktown" to the Museum) I had more than a casual interest in the subject matter, but I found it totally absorbing and, of course, long overdue. Most importantly, take the time to go see this wonderful addition to the Philadelphia historical scene in person. Consider becoming a member to help support the museum going forward. Check out the gift shop, well-stocked with items not typically found in tourist traps, to which a section is devoted specifically to items about the Continental Army’s brutal winter at Valley Forge.

And last, but certainly not least, the next time you feel defeated about something, allow yourself to be inspired by the story of We the People to think about how much American success in the American Revolution illustrates the impossible odds that can be overcome and the things that can be accomplished by brave, determined people with tenacity and the courage of their convictions.                                                                                                                                                                       )

Gerry Lenfest at 4-19-17 ribbon cutting

Friday, April 14, 2017

Paying Up for Police Services

We have a terrific police department here in LP. Well trained, accredited, highly responsive and with excellent leadership, we enjoy being one of the 50 safest communities in Pennsylvania. link But, all that comes with a cost to our residents.
One of my long-time personal pet peeves, and a long-term state debate, has been whether taxpayers across Pennsylvania should be footing the bill for police services in municipalities that forego the expense of hiring their own police force. These are municipalities who instead rely on the closest Pennsylvania State Police barracks for law enforcement services, effectively asking the residents of the entire state to subsidize their law enforcement needs.

Or, as is often the case, they also rely on the response of local police departments in surrounding municipalities. Exhibit A in our case is Worcester Township, an affluent community by all standards. Our LPPD officers often have to respond to incidents at the Methacton High School (situated in Worcester Twp) since they can respond more quickly than PSP. According to a Skippack supervisor I know, PSP takes 30-40 minutes to respond when they need something, and their barracks is IN Skippack). That’s a cost we are not compensated for.

Here in LP, the cost of salaries, pensions and benefits for our 31 officers, 2 dispatchers and a part-time evidence clerk is approximately (based on 2015 figures) $3,330,278, consuming 28.3% of our annual budget. LP residents not only pay for their own law enforcement services via their township taxes, but via their state taxes, they’re also paying for communities like Worcester’s law enforcement needs. In the case of some rural townships, there simply isn’t a tax base strong enough to support having their own police department, and in some cases there’s far less need for one due to the remoteness of the area and distance from more densely populated areas, but many, including Worcester Township, arguably can and should shoulder that burden.

In any event the free ride may soon be over. Governor Wolf’s $32.2 billion dollar spending plan is about $1 billion short of funding. Especially if there are no spending cuts or tax increases, other sources of revenue must be found. The governor announced in late February that one way being considered as a revenue source to help raise money is to levy a $25 fee per person on those municipalities that have elected not to bear the cost of staffing their own police departments and instead rely on the state police to respond to crime in their towns. He estimates the fee could raise about $63 million and help fund the state police, reducing reliance on the Motor License Fund, a reserve set aside to pay for roads that the legislature has tapped to meet state police costs. Roughly half of Pennsylvania’s 2,562 municipalities do not have their own police force. Right now, residents in the rest of the Commonwealth are effectively subsidizing those municipalities, and paying twice for police services – to their own municipality AND to the state.

It’s important to note that individuals would not pay the fee directly; it’s an assessment to the municipality which would likely raise their own local taxes to accommodate its collection. And there’s nothing saying that once it’s in place, it won’t be increased. However, it does put the burden more on those regions that use the PSP services exclusively (regional police departments would be exempt from the fee).

If that sounds preposterous, consider that towns with dedicated police forces pay far more that than per person – on average $155 per resident.

Here in Lower Providence, based on 2010 census figures of a population numbering 25,436 and 2014 reported cost figures, our cost per resident is $126.80 (source: )    
A few years later, it’s undoubtedly more than that.  Per the 2015 LPT annual report, the cost to provide police service here had risen to $3,330,278; assuming population is essentially unchanged from 2010 the cost per resident for police services rose to $130.93.

For comparison, here are some other local municipalities’ spend (source: More Than The Curve):

·    Conshohocken has a population of 7,833, spent $2,575,879.00 on police in 2014, for an average of $328.85 per resident
·    West Conshohocken has a population of 1,320, spent $1,792,125.00 on police in 2016, for an average of $1,357.67 per resident
·    Plymouth Township has a population of 16,525, spent $6,397,210.00 on police in 2014, for an average of $387.12 per resident
·    Whitemarsh Township has a population of 17,349, spent $5,020,436.00 on police in 2014, for an average of $289.38 per resident

$25 per person looks like a bargain, doesn’t it?  Perhaps, but some disagree. Smaller and more rural municipalities are concerned.

Officials in North Whitehall Township, supervisors Mark Hills and Bruce Paulus, said that “Rural areas like ours are what the state police were intended to cover," Hills said. "We already pay for the state police in our taxes. I don't think it's fair to ask us for additional monies”

"I think they could say this applies maybe to places with 5,000 or more [residents]," Paulus said. "When you're a large municipality, maybe you should have your own or maybe you should be charged for your state police coverage. But the small rural communities are what state police were meant for." link
As Kenneth Grimes, president of PSATS, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors notes in the most recent volume of “Townships Today”, those communities won’t be getting any MORE police services in return for the fee. He says “The State Police will continue to operate, much like they always have, with very limited manpower. House bill 1500 won’t do anything to increase coverage or decrease response times.”

However, the bill’s sponsor, State Rep Mike Sturla, believes that municipalities that do not have a full-time local police force have been ‘draining the system for too long and should be required to pay an extra fee for State Police services. “My legislation is about fairness and equity because it is obvious there is a serious inequity in how we fund police services in our state”, he said in a recent press release.  

Then again, some contend that few municipalities really qualify as small or distressed enough to avoid the fee. Many are seeing booming growth and are becoming more densely populated and should have to pay up.
Bottom line, while generally I’m not in favor of new fees and taxes in lieu of responsible spending and cutting costs at the state level, this is one area that is long overdue for a more equitable solution.