Trumbull County, with a population of less than a quarter million, is served by more than 50 safety agencies. These include 20-some police departments, 30-some fire departments, an emergency management agency and a HAZMAT team.
That's unsustainable. The 14 requests for tax increases for safety forces on the November General Election ballot is proof that local governments desperately need to work better together to reduce cost and improve service. It's imperative that community leaders reduce the amount of police and fire departments, chiefs and expensive equipment.
That's why we say no to many requests for tax increases. Below is the Tribune Chronicle Editorial Board's position on various levies:
LEVY: 1 mill for police and fire
REVENUE / COST: $122,000 / $35 per year for every $100,000 in property value
NOTES: Trustees are pursuing a police merger with Hubbard and Hubbard Township. Previous discussions for a fire merger with neighboring departments fell through. The levy money would be spent on equipment and maintenance. While the Editorial Board finds no issue in how Brookfield uses existing resources for safety, agreeing to pay more for the same level of services would send a message that consolidating safety forces with neighbors is unnecessary.
LEVY: 2.6-mill replacement for fire
REVENUE / COST: $196,000 / $43 per year for every $100,000 in property value
NOTES: Since the last tax increase in 1994, 235 structures, more than 20 streets and large expansions at the Trumbull Career and Technical Center and Kent State University at Trumbull have been built in the township. Meanwhile, levy millage has been adjusted downward to keep the department from collecting more money.
The Fire Department cuts costs by having firefighters provide the labor for capital improvements and by using part-timers to avoid overtime. Firefighters also took a three-year pay freeze and increased their health care share. Even if Champion successfully pursues a merger, the department should receive more money to protect more buildings and people.
LEVY: 3-mill replacement for police
REVENUE / COST: $122,000 / $24 per year for every $100,000 in property value.
NOTES: The department added a school resource officer, shifted an officer's duty to investigative and replenished its reserve pool. The department cuts costs through joint training with Bazetta. Through mutual aid, residents in each community are growing accustomed to seeing each other's cruisers and officers. This bodes well for a merger.
By rejecting the levy Cortland residents would send the message that consolidation, which should cut costs and increase safety, must be a priority.
LEVIES: 1 mill for fire and 1.75 mills for police
REVENUE / COST: $39,000 / $35 per year for every $100,000 in property value for fire; $68,000 / $61 per year for every $100,000 in property value for police.
NOTES: Hartford contracts with Brookfield for fire and EMS. While that cost has held steady, Hartford's revenue has declined forcing trustees to dip into the general fund for fire protection.
We suggest that trustees contract out for police protection just as it does for fire protection. They just might find it would be less expensive to get more protection.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Yes for fire; no for police.
LEVIES: 0.75-mill replacement and 1-mill replacement for police; 1.75-mill replacement for fire
REVENUE / COST: $288,000 / $28 per year for every $100,000 in property value for police; $373,000 / $36 per year for every $100,000 in property value.
NOTES: Employees have taken a three-year pay freeze through 2013. Officials have not specified what gets cut if the levies fail, saying such information was akin to making threats.
Rather than threats, such information would simply be a list of goods and services taxpayers would get for their money, something every buyer should know before making a purchase. Howland also has high benefit costs - 97 percent of each employee's health care premium, 25.4 percent of a police officer's salary toward the officer's pension, and 24 percent of a firefighter's salary toward the firefighter's pension.
RECOMMENDATIONS: No on all.
LEVY: 1.5 mills for fire
REVENUE / COST: $48,000 / $52.50 per year for every $100,000 in property value.
NOTES: Trustees want to replace a 1988 rescue vehicle that costs more than $350,000 new. Over many years they saved $250,000 in capital improvements, but this year had to take $16,000 from the savings to offset state budget cuts and pay for increased training and equipment requirements.
Kinsman participates in a four-community co-op for paramedic service and contracts with Johnston for backup EMS. Private companies are unable to provide service in the northern part of the county.
LEVY: 1 mill replacement for fire
REVENUE / COST: $51,000 / $24 per year for every $100,000 in property value
NOTES: Newton and Newton Falls operate a joint fire district, an example that most other areas of Trumbull County should follow. It's something the township and village should attempt to expand.
Whether the district expands or not, township property owners should expect to pay more than $6 per year for fire protection. That's what the current levy costs for every $100,000 in property value. This forced trustees to borrow $350,000 over the past 10 years from the general fund, a practice frowned upon by state auditors.
LEVY: 3 mills for police
REVENUE / COST: $180,000 / $105 per year for every $100,000 in property value.
NOTES: To increase efficiency, the department eliminated its 911 dispatching, received a three-year employee wage freeze, increased employee health care contributions and eliminated some health care coverage.
Newton Falls eliminated income tax forgiveness for those who work outside the village. There is talk of restoring the forgiveness if the levy passes. Officials should be clearer on how it wants to fund the department.
LEVY: 4 mills
REVENUE / COST: $279,000 / $140 per year for every $100,000 in property value.
NOTES: Employees accepted a three-year pay freeze through 2014, new employees contribute 10 percent toward their health care premiums, officers do not take home vehicles, and the number of full-time employees dropped from eight to four. All this in a town that this year has recorded almost as many murders as Warren.
Chief Don Bishop said residents resist a merger. If that's true, they should support the levy. It seems like consolidation, though, would increase protection without increasing cost.