The National Safety Council sponsors June as National Safety Month. In this program, the Council focuses on safety in the home, at work, in the community, and on the roads. From police and fire services to road maintenance and snow removal, local governments contribute to public safety in a number of ways. But with budgets tightening around the state due to the pressure of municipal pension obligations, it is becoming harder to meet public safety needs.
Most residents look to public officials including police to set the tone for public safety. With increasing percentages of local budgets being devoted to funding escalating pension costs, police departments must focus on traditional policing at the expense of other, programs. For example, the Evans City Seven Fields Regional Police Department’s K-9 law enforcement program, was eliminated in 2015 and its K9 officer retired in lieu of another full–time officer.
The 2015 budget discussion in the city of York included cuts to fire personnel as well as increased work hours. In the final budget, four firefighters were furloughed and only reinstated when the City applied for and received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
About 96% of fire coverage in Pennsylvania is provided by volunteer fire departments. These departments are facing a major recruitment challenge, with staffing down 75% since the 1970s. Volunteers save taxpayers $139 billion annually in salary and pension costs, but their services are not free. If local governments using volunteers have to implement paid departments in order to have proper coverage local property taxes will skyrocket.
Safety Has a Price
Like everything else, public safety comes at a price. But for communities with high municipal pension obligations, too much of their budgets are dedicated to paying these debts. If important public safety programs cannot be given the resources they need jobs and PA citizens are in jeopardy.
But there’s something you can do to help keep your community safe. Contact your Pennsylvania Senators and Representatives and tell them you support municipal pension reform. Let them know it’s time to fix the numbers.