Patrick Lester says super rich Lower Macungie Township is getting ready to debate whether or not to stop mooching off the state police for their domestic policing needs:
Commissioners say they’ve begun researching the cost of police departments in neighboring municipalities and gathering crime statistics while they reconsider a long-standing debate: whether the township should have a law enforcement presence beyond what state police at Fogelsville provide.
They say they’ll put that data before the public, possibly by year’s end, before deciding whether it’s time to create a police force, join a regional department or hire a nearby municipality’s police department to patrol the township.
Township officials know any of those options could mean the imposition of a property tax that hasn’t been levied in the township for years. Previous studies have yielded the same result: Residents didn’t want to pay for the service.
This is totally nuts. A town needs local police. It’s not the job of the state police to do local policing. This is one of the richest most Republican areas in the Lehigh Valley. Apparently they think Going Galt means mooching off everyone else.
It’s also totally predictable. What we’re seeing is Lower Macungie entering Stage 2 of the 5 Stages of Municipal Death:
1. Low taxes with prosperity
2. Gradually rising tax rates and increasing demand for services.
3. Plateau of tax base with reductions in non-core services
4. Insufficient taxes or tax base with reductions in core services.
5. Loss of tax base and distress
First you start your new township on some farmland, and pretend like you don’t need any services and set tax rates way too low. Then the richest people flee higher tax places for the fake low tax rates. You get by for a few years and then Whoops! it turns out your township needs the same municipal services that every other town does.
Then people stop wanting to pay the increasing taxes, so David Jaindl builds yet another ring of suburbs on former farmland, forms a new government, and the new government Lower Macungies you with fake low tax rates and steals your residents and businesses.
But now your tax base has shrunk and you still need to provide the same services over the same territory, so you have to raise taxes again just to maintain the same service levels. More people don’t like the tax increases, so they abandon you for the new Lower Macungie, and on and on.
Every borough and township in PA is cycling through these stages, and they’ll all get to Stage 5 at some point. It’s a direct result of structural incentives built into PA’s crazyquilt system of local government.
On the practical question of what Lower Macungie ought to do about policing, I think it’s clear they should follow the lead of other forward-thinking munis and either join the Berks-Lehigh Regional Police who serve neighboring Upper Macungie, or partner with Allentown on a new regional police department. The ideal solution would be for Lehigh County to start their own county-wide police department and offer municipalities financial incentives to join. It doesn’t make any sense for policing to be the only part of the criminal justice system that’s not run at the county level.