Police proposal upsets local towns

Governor considering plan to charge municipalities for State Police coverage.

By: Scott Morgan
   The McGreevey administration is considering a plan to charge small, rural communities for State Police coverage.
   A proposal within Gov. James McGreevey’s fiscal 2003 budget seeks to elicit payment from those communities in the service of the State Police for the privilege of using the troopers as their on-call police officers.
   The governor’s plan would base its costs on municipal populations, land area and the amount of police services used, according to Committeeman Cory Wingerter of Millstone, who addressed the proposal at last week’s Township Committee meeting.
   According to Richard Lee, a spokesman for the governor, 98 municipalities throughout the state stand to be affected by the proposal. Mr. Lee said 74 municipalities rely exclusively on State Police protection, while 24 have evening-and-weekend part-time coverage.
   Millstone, Upper Freehold and Roosevelt are three of those 98 municipalities that would feel the impact of a new fee. All three rely on total State Police coverage. Not surprisingly, some officials from these municipalities are unhappy with the governor’s proposal.
   "I believe we need to fight this mandate and let the governor know that Millstone Township has minimal police activity and that the residents cannot afford this tax increase," said Mr. Wingerter in a written statement.
   During last week’s Township Committee meeting, Mr. Wingerter asked fellow Committeeman Bill Nurko to draft a letter to the state Department of Community Affairs requesting further details of the governor’s plan.
   Mr. Nurko said he has already posted the letter to DCA Commissioner Susan Levin. The letter, Mr. Nurko said, requests a meeting between a DCA representative and officials from Millstone, Upper Freehold and Roosevelt. There was no word on a meeting date at press time.
   Upper Freehold Committeeman Bill Miscoski said he considers the proposal tantamount to a municipal tax hike. Mr. Miscoski said that as a candidate, Gov. McGreevey ran on a platform of no new taxes. If the state requires payment for State Police coverage, the municipal tax rate will almost certainly need to increase to pay for it, Mr. Miscoski said.
   "As far as I’m concerned, it’s a tax increase," he said.
   Tom Vincz, spokesman for the state Treasury Department, said the proposal seeks to offset part of the state’s $5.3 billion budget deficit by saving the estimated $11.7 million in annual costs for providing State Police coverage to rural areas. Mr. Vincz said statewide, taxpayers annually disburse $70 million to provide such coverage.
   Mr. Vincz said the budget will need to pass with the State Police proposal included before a commission could be established to calculate a formula for charging individual municipalities.
   With a looming price tag and some unanswered questions, local officials may begin to explore other options.
   Mr. Wingerter said he wants Millstone to put together an "action plan" to evaluate the costs of remaining with the State Police, consider regionalized coverage with Upper Freehold and Roosevelt to share the costs of coverage, or consider using the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Department in lieu of State Police coverage. There is no interest in beginning a local police department in Millstone, Mr. Wingerter said.
   Undersheriff Adam Puharic of the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Department said his office has received no requests to adopt coverage from the State Police.
   Mr. Miscoski said Upper Freehold does not want to lose State Police coverage, even if it needs to be paid for.
   "We love the State Police," Mr. Miscoski said. "They’ve been good to us. If the bottom line is we have to pay for the State Police, then we pay for it."