Jerusalem Township trustees voted 2-0 to place a levy on the Nov. 3 ballot at a meeting on July 28 to fund sheriff’s patrols, which the township currently receives at no charge from Lucas County.
Trustees have not yet figured out the levy’s millage. They face an Aug. 20 deadline to place the levy on the November ballot.
The levy is in response to a notification by Lucas County commissioners last month that it was going to start charging nine unincorporated areas in the county, including Jerusalem Township, for sheriff’s patrols starting Jan. 1 due to budgetary constraints. That’s when commissioners plan to cut over $5 million from the sheriff’s budget.
The notification sent townships scrambling for ways to raise funds to continue getting their current level of services from the sheriff, or contract with adjacent communities for police protection. To maintain sheriff patrols, Jerusalem Township, which has a population of 3,181 within a 30.4 square mile area, would be charged $347,000 annually by the sheriff.
Jerusalem Township Trustee Joe Gray said he’s met with county commissioners, Lucas County Sheriff James Telb, and Oregon officials to discuss the best available options.
Keeping the current level of services from the sheriff, who provides one deputy per eight hour shift in Jerusalem Township, is the cheapest and best choice, according to Gray.
Commissioners have agreed to allow the township to pay just 65 percent of $347,000 for the first year, 80 percent the second year, then 100 percent the third year, said Gray.
He doesn’t blame the sheriff for the new costs to the township because the county commissioners cut his budget.
“The sheriff has done a great job protecting the township,” said Gray. “He’s the one who wanted the sheriff’s substation at the town hall.”
If the township does not pay $347,000 to the county, the sheriff will only respond to emergency calls.
“No way would the sheriff be able to keep patrolling the way they do now,” said Gray.
But Trustee Joe Kiss, who was not at the July 28 trustee meeting because he was on vacation, prefers that option until the township can fund sheriff patrols without increasing taxes.
“I would have voted no,” said Kiss. “They’re still going to have to have deputies available to respond to 911 calls in Jerusalem Township.”
Kiss said he was disappointed that the county did not give the townships much time to find funding sources.
“They didn’t give us enough notice, or enough time to try and budget this money,” said Kiss. “We pay 3.26 percent of our real estate taxes to the county’s general fund. Of that money we pay the general fund, that’s been paying for the sheriff. What are they going to do with the money that we’ve been paying?”
Furthermore, Kiss opposes a levy because he doubts it would pass in the current economic climate.
“I know people can’t afford it. And I know the county is strapped, but it’s not the people’s fault. I’m just against another levy that was short noticed out of the clear blue sky for my taxpayers. The alternative is to go with just basic service,” he said.
Kiss said he met with Oregon Mayor Marge Brown last week to find out how much it would cost the township to contract with the city for police services, but it was too high.
“It’s too expensive to contract with Oregon. Jerusalem Township has too much farm land. We have 69 miles of roads. It’s just too vast for Oregon to cover. So it’s not feasible to go with Oregon,” he said. “This is a serious problem.”
Rodney Graffis, chairman of the board of trustees, said Kiss’s option would leave the township under-protected.
“Could you imagine what the crime rate would be out here if we did nothing? It would be like it was back in the 1970s. I remember folks calling the sheriff after their homes were burglarized, and it would take four hours for law enforcement to drive out here because they were busy at another scene at the other end of the county,” said Graffis.
“The safety of our residents is the top priority,” said Gray.
Township trustees, who often bicker with each other on the board, should unite to resolve this issue, said Gray.
“All the petty stuff up to this point doesn’t matter,” said Gray. “Now’s the time to put it aside until we can figure out what is the best protection for Jerusalem Township. In the eight years I’ve been trustee, this has been the biggest issue. We’ve argued about a lot of things out here. But we’ve never had the issue of losing police protection. I can’t think of anything bigger than this.”