Jerusalem Township Trustees Aug. 11 voted unanimously to place a 3.5-mill levy for one year on the November 3 ballot to fund sheriff patrols in the township.
On July 28, trustees Joe Gray and Rodney Graffis voted in favor of putting a levy on the ballot. Following a special meeting to gauge public opinion on the matter on Aug. 6, Gray said he would vote at the Aug. 11 trustee meeting to rescind his motion to vote for the levy because it lacked support from the packed crowd of 125 residents.
Gray did rescind his motion, then voted with Graffis and Trustee Joe Kiss in favor of putting the 3.5-mill levy on the ballot.
Gray said he changed his mind because voters in the township should have the opportunity to decide on the levy.
“There are no other options,” said Gray. “There’s a lot of opposition to paying for the sheriff’s patrol. But we don’t have any money coming in to contract for police protection. There were only 125 people at the meeting. It’s better to let all the voters of Jerusalem Township make a decision on it.”
Kiss, who opposes the levy, still voted in favor of putting it on the ballot “to let the people decide what they want to do.”
“I don’t have a problem with letting voters decide. But I will vote no on Nov. 3 for more taxes,” said Kiss.
Graffis also wanted to give the public a chance to vote on the matter.
“I don’t really feel it’s right to make a decision that would affect the whole township based on what a small fraction of the population thought about it at the Aug. 6 meeting,” said Graffis. “Let the voters decide. I think we’ll have a record voter turnout this time because this is a serious issue.”
The township currently receives sheriff’s patrols at no charge from Lucas County. That will end on Jan. 1, when the sheriff starts billing nine unincorporated areas in the county, including Jerusalem Township, for patrols due to budgetary constraints. Commissioners plan to cut over $5 million from the sheriff’s budget next year. Township officials learned about their new costs just last month, leaving them little time to find funding for police protection. Trustees face an Aug. 20 deadline to put the levy on the ballot.
The township, which receives one deputy per eight hour shift, will have to pay the county $347,000 per year to maintain its current level of services.
Commissioners have agreed to allow the township to pay just 65 percent, or $225,550 of the amount for the first year, 80 percent, or $277,600 the second year, and the full $347,000 the third year.
If the township votes against the levy, deputies will not conduct patrols, but only respond to 9-1-1 emergencies.
“We’re very concerned about it,” said Kiss. “But if they can’t afford it, they can’t afford it,” he said of voters.
Kiss blames Lucas County commissioners for the county’s budget problems.
“They’ve mismanaged our money, with their new sports arena and other things,” said Kiss. “That’s what this is all about. Nothing’s changed. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them walk in here and say we need to pay them $347,000 or they’re cutting service. Screw them.”
In addition, he’s disappointed the county gave townships little time to find other options.
“They’re asking us to buy a $347,000 house that we’ve never seen. We don’t know what we’re going to get for our $347,000. We have no idea. Are we going to get the exact system that we have now? There’s just not enough explanation for the money,” said Kiss.
Contracting with Oregon to provide police services is too costly, said Kiss.
Fiscal Officer Julie Van Nest agrees.
“The timing wasn’t right for us to really sit down and negotiate, research, or look into other possibilities. It was just cut and dry,” she said.
“I read about it in the newspaper,” said Graffis. “The county didn’t even have the decency to call me up and tell me. I was absolutely livid. Is this how the county conducts business? I would have thought they would have notified the chairman of the board and said that this is coming down the road. I don’t think this was thought through very well. They dumped this on us. We have no time to do research. We’re scrambling. We only have a week left to get a levy on the ballot.”
Some townships have decided to contract with adjoining communities for police services instead of getting billed by the county.
Springfield Township, for instance, recently voted to put a 4.5-mill levy on the November ballot to raise $2.4 million for police service from the Village of Holland rather than pay the same amount to the county for its current level of sheriff’s patrols.
Jerusalem Township contracting with Oregon would be too costly, said Kiss.
“Oregon won’t do it with just one police officer per shift. They want two cars per shift, or they won’t do it,” said Kiss.
Trustees agreed to establish a four-member citizen steering committee to research other options.
“The committee will look into possibly doing our own police department, staffed by part-time officers, that would piggyback off the basic service the sheriff’s department would provide to 9-1-1 calls,” said Kiss.
It will cost the township approximately $16,000 to put the levy on the ballot, according to Van Nest.
The township will also have a 2-mill renewal levy for roads and bridges on the Nov. 3 ballot. The levy brings in about $89,000 annually, said Van Nest.