Falls looks to share services

NEWTON FALLS – In an effort to save money, the village is reaching out to Newton and Braceville townships to share police services, while at the same time declining coverage from the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office.

Village manager Jack Haney sent out three letters at the direction of village council during the regular meeting March 18. Letters to Newton and Braceville were similarly worded:

“In the spirit of cooperation City Council has directed me to open a dialog with you to examine the possibility of some sort of mutual arrangement for police services,” Haney wrote.

The letters were dated March 22. As of Tuesday, Braceville trustee Todd Brewster said he has not received the letter but that it will most likely be discussed at their next meeting. Brewster said he has never considered combining police services with Newton Falls.

“I’d have to speak with the other trustees,” he said.

Newton trustees discussed the letter at their meeting on March 25. While the trustees expressed their satisfaction with the police coverage they receive from the sheriff’s office, trustee Peter Augusta said he hopes to meet with Haney on Friday to hear what the village has to say.

“It would be great to have the (village) patroling the area, but financially I don’t see how it’s feasible,” Augusta said.

Newton pays the sheriff’s office $54,000 a year for 40 hours of coverage by a patrol officer during peak hours throughout the week. However, Augusta said the sheriff is required to cover the area 24-7. The agreement means the county doesn’t have to pay for extra costs such as fuel for the cruiser.

Augusta said combining police services could cause strife between village and township residents over an inequality in tax costs. In order for the township and village to work together, he said a joint police department would have to be formed, like the joint fire district, and each side would have to be willing to pay their equal share.

Newton trustees voted to disband their police department in December 2008 to cut costs and pick up a contract with the sheriff. This is an option that Newton Falls declined to consider, according to the letter sent to the sheriff’s office.

“City Council has voted, at this time (March 18),” Haney wrote to Sheriff Thomas Altiere, “to continue our current arrangement, namely to maintain our own police department and chief of police.”

The letter to the sheriff’s office also states that the village charter requires a department and chief – a hiccup that would have to be amended before action could be taken on using the sheriff’s office for coverage.

As of Tuesday evening, Haney said he hadn’t received any formal response to the three letters. If some action isn’t taken, Haney said there will need to be cuts to the police department – which he said is the most expensive aspect of the village.

“That would be a notable restructure of service,” Haney said, “and not just to the police department.”

The police budget is $943,602 out of the total $2.45 million in the general fund. Haney said cuts in government funding of about $430,000 since 2005 have already lead to outsourcing the village’s dispatch services and have resulted in the layoff of approximately 10 percent of the village staff.

In a memo to council at their March 18 meeting, Haney suggested increasing the village’s revenue by placing a half-percent increase on income tax on the November ballot or by removing the recently reinstated forgiveness tax. The income tax increase would generate about $220,000.

“If we don’t have the funding, we’ll have to make cuts,” he said.