The Pennsylvania Auditor General says Lebanon County’s Bethel Township has an $879,361 police pension fund, even though it hasn’t had a police force since 2003.

The state wants the township to figure out how much of that amount comes from township contributions, and whether the fund has any debts. Whatever is left over comes from state aid, says the Auditor General, and must be paid back.

The findings and repayment request are set out in a “compliance audit” signed by Auditor General Timothy DeFoor on April 18 and made public on May 10.

Pennsylvania municipal police pension funds are eligible to receive state aid under Act 205 of 1984. But the amount of annual state aid cannot exceed a municipality’s actual pension costs.

The compliance audit says that the township doesn’t have any pension costs, because it is not making pension payments to any retired police officers and has no former officers who will have the right to receive benefits in the future.

“It has been the consistent practice of this department,” the audit says, “that municipalities that have received state aid under this program, and which do not employ at least one full-time police officer, must return unused funds not used for the purposes set forth herein within two years of receipt….”

Returned funds will be used “to defray other eligible municipalities’ pension costs under the program,” according to the Auditor General.

Any portion of the $879,361 balance that comes from the township’s own contributions may be kept and transferred to its general fund.

The report warns that future state funding could be jeopardized if the township doesn’t repay.

The audit includes a response from the township that says “[p]lease be advised that Bethel Township is rapidly growing with commercial/manufacturing businesses and a recently constructed income-based housing development. We strongly believe that Bethel Township will be forced to hire a police force in the near future.”

The Auditor General responded by saying “[w]e acknowledge the township’s position; however, based on the aforementioned criteria … the findings remain as stated. Compliance will be evaluated during our next audit of the plan.”

Requests for comment left on the supervisors’ township voicemail had not been returned by publication time. Township manager Melissa Johnson was on vacation during the week of May 16 and could not be reached.

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Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...