WARREN - Despite the completion of a $27,000 feasibility study by Youngstown State University, the question of whether a merger between the Hubbard city and Hubbard and Brookfield townships is actually achievable remains the central question examined by the entities.
Local officials, joined by state Rep. Sean J. O'Brien, D-Hubbard, sat to discuss the issue Friday afternoon at the Trumbull County Administration Building.
Many expressed their disappointment that the grant-funded study did not expound on the possible outcomes of consolidating the three police departments.
"What I'm saying is even with the study by YSU - none of us are very happy with it - most of all is we're on a skeleton crew, and they said they don't even know how we're doing it now. There's warning signs there. There's a red flag," Brookfield Trustee Gary Lees said.
While Lees and O'Brien agreed safety is the first priority, financing the merger remains the initial hurdle to overcome. The townships fund their department with levies, while the city uses income tax. The Ohio Revised Code would have to be amended to allow both funding sources for a merged department.
"It seems like the wording just needs to be tweaked to say levy or tax," O'Brien said.
Upon leaving the meeting, he said he would investigate what could be done to change the law.
"Of all the problems we have to look at, it is probably the easiest," he said.
At the end of the meeting, the officials decided to meet in two month's time to review what O'Brien had discovered about the legislation and to review what Cook found on the cost savings.
Saving money, sorting through pensions and combining unions, all while keeping a steady level of service quality were other issues brought up during the meeting.
"There's really no reason for us to make any change unless it has something to really offer us because we're all really well off where we are now," said Hubbard Trustee Joe Gleydura.
Mayor John Darko echoed Gleydura, saying savings and efficiency are essential for a merger to be worth the work. He said getting a police merger to fall into place would be much more difficult than when the city and Hubbard Township formed a joint fire district.
"This is a little different because we don't already have a levy," he said.
The six-month YSU study which began in March suggested to keep the services as is, a 9.9-mil levy would need to be spread among the entities. Nevertheless, the study did not factor in possible cost savings that may not require such a large levy.
"I'm on the Hubbard Fire Board and, if nothing else, you get savings by efficiency," Gleydura said.
Lacking an answer from the study, Ernie Cook, executive director of Trumbull County 911, volunteered to meet with the police chiefs to conduct another feasibility study of sorts to estimate the manpower needed for a merger.
If the city did switch to funding the police through a levy, Darko said he still wasn't sure if the city's income tax would lower since many of the residents in Hubbard are retired and don't pay income tax in the first place.