Jerusalem Township trustees are considering alternatives to spending over $300,000 to continue getting patrolled by Lucas County deputy sheriffs.
Recently, Lucas County Commissioners decided to cut the sheriff’s budget next year as a result of the recession. Since the Ohio Revised Code does not require the county to provide police protection to township residents, Lucas County deputies will no longer provide patrols to eight townships in Lucas County unless townships pay for the service. The county expects to save $5.1 million as a result.
“The sheriff’s job is to keep the peace and run a jail,” Pete Gerken, president of the Lucas County Commissioners, said last week. “And in tight economic times, we certainly are going back to those core services that we can afford to deliver. Right now, we just can’t afford to pay for townships that don’t pay for their own police services. Everyone’s cutting their budgets, and this is just one of the unfortunate aspects of our budget.”
“The commissioners will pass a budget at the end of the year, as they always do,” said Lucas County Administrator Michael Beazley. “As we looked at the revenue, we realize that we’re going to be focusing on our state mandated services. We have told the sheriff that we are going to cut his budget by $5.1 million and if he wanted to continue to maintain those services, then he had to go out and get the revenue, which had to be developed in the communities that want to continue the service.”
The sheriff has informed the affected townships that he intends to cut back the service on January 1, said Beazley.
Currently, 32 deputies in the sheriff’s department patrol eight townships free of charge, said Gerken.
In Lucas County, three townships – Sylvania, Washington and Waterville – pay for their own police departments.
Jerusalem Township, with a population of 3,280, will have to pony up $346,968 to the sheriff’s department to continue getting the service of one deputy per eight hour shift. A sheriff’s substation is located in the town hall.
Jerusalem Township fiscal officer Julie Van Nest said such an expense is not feasible. The township’s budget, passed earlier this spring, is $1.7 million.
“I don’t know how we’re going to be able to do it,” she said.
Gerken said he’s met with some townships, which are all opposed to having to pay for police patrols.
“We need to find a way to work together with them to give them services they need that we can afford,” he said.
Jerusalem Township Trustee Rodney Graffis he will be meeting with officials from other townships to discuss available options, including contracting with other communities that already have their own police departments.
“I’m not in favor of this one bit,” said Graffis. “We’re not really willing to pay this, it’s not in our budget, so we don’t have the money to pay it. We’re definitely going to find the cheapest way to get other coverage. I have some other ideas on what we could possibly do. The last thing I want is a levy to pay for this. I’m going to be talking to other townships on Thursday so we can put our heads together and find another plan.”
Jerusalem Township Trustee Joe Kiss also expressed frustration.
“It’s impossible,” said Kiss. “Barring putting another levy on the ballot, which I would be opposed to, I don’t know how we’re going to do it.”
Contracting with another community, such as Oregon, or establishing a township police force are possibilities, said Kiss.
“We’re going to have to talk about it because it doesn’t look good. I know we can’t afford $300,000,” said Kiss.
Graffis said the county is not backing down from the $346,968 price tag.
“We certainly can’t pay for this. That’s a lot of money,” said Graffis. “We all know the county isn’t doing so good. Now they’re going to the cash cows – the townships. Most townships always operate in the black. So that’s what they’re looking at.”
“We’ll certainly be cooperative with whatever way they want to go,” said Gerken. “If they want some analysis on that, we have staff that’s willing to help them. We’ve done a lot of the financial analysis. Contracting with the sheriff is probably the best way to go. But it’s certainly the townships decision, and I’ll leave it to them.”
Gerken said 90 percent of communities in Lucas County pay for their own police protection.
“And the other townships fortunately haven’t had to foot that bill. It’s not so much I’m trying to save money, I’m trying to not spend money I don’t have,” said Gerken. “And if we don’t have the money, then we have to be honest and forthright about it. I’m not going to turn into Toledo.”
Beazley said the current economic climate is dictating the decision.
“Ultimately, it’s a challenge with the current recession. As businesses and the families of Lucas County have had to cut back, the commissioners and the county have had to reduce spending,” said Beazley. “We’ve already taken a significant number of major steps to reduce spending - closing the Lucas County Recreation Center and turning it over to a non-profit organization, and reducing our work force. In this instance, we looked at non-mandated services, and this is a service that is not mandated by law. For 90 percent of Lucas County communities, police protection is paid for at the local level. We are operating a service for $5.1 million to benefit only 10 percent of the county. That was one of the areas where we felt we could and should make a cut.”
Beazley added that the best option for the townships, which is the cheapest, is to pay the sheriff’s department for patrols.
“Communities that pay for their own police services charge, on average, $280 per resident. Lucas County pays approximately, on average, $110 per resident for patrols by deputy sheriffs,” said Beazley. “So for less than what other communities pay, the sheriff would be able to continue to provide that service. That’s something for the communities to sit and negotiate with the sheriff as they look at it. We think the sheriff would provide the best value in northwest Ohio. We understand this is a difficult issue for everyone. It’s not easy. This is a tough recession. We don’t pretend this is going to be easy for the townships. It’s a tough challenge for the community.”