NEWTON FALLS - Chief Gene Fixler is optimistic that feared layoffs will not be part of the fix to the village police department's drastic budget cuts.
After village council approved 2014 appropriations Monday, a cut of about $308,500 left many fretting over prospects of job cuts.
Fixler's plan includes requesting two full-time patrol officers be reduced to part-time and eliminates benefits at year's end. This would leave the department with three full-time sergeants, the full-time chief and about 17 part-time officers. The school resource officer, K-9 officer and detective would keep their positions.
"It's not perfect, but it's better than one officer on the road," Fixler said. "We're still working within budget constraints."
The police union contract will not be renewed after it expires Dec. 31. Officers asked to take part-time positions would see a 25 percent cut in pay. However, not paying for union benefits will be a larger savings. Without union negotiations, officers will lose healthcare benefits and will see a change in pay and pension arrangements.
"Having no health care, that itself is a huge savings for us," Fixler said.
Ohio law allows the department to walk away from union negotiations because the 2010 census listed the village at 4,795 residents. Communities with more than 5,000 in population are required to recognize the bargaining agreements under state law, village Manager Jack Haney said.
Haney said cuts from the 2013 police budget of $940,000 to $631,000 for 2014 are coming after residents defeated two police operating levies in two years.
"It's unfortunate, but that's what the voters have told us they're willing to pay for," he said.
Haney suggests council attempt to pass another levy as soon as possible in the new year.
For Council member Richard Zamecnik, even asking the two full-time officers to step down in pay does not see a very good solution.
"I have to listen to the people, but at the same time what about the other 80 percent who didn't turn out (to vote)," he said.
Zamecnik said cuts in the budget from state funding are being faced by every local government but it does not make up for the fact that one of the full-time officers being asked to step down has four children for whom to care.
"It still bothers me," he said, "He's going to be better on unemployment."