Hubbard Township seeks approval of police levies

HUBBARD TOWNSHIP — Township trustees are seeking passage of two police levies on the May 7 primary ballot in an attempt to alleviate budgetary problems in the police department.

Voters will see a 1.75-mill renewal operating police levy and a 1.75-mill new additional levy for police maintenance, training and equipment, including police vehicles and radios. Both are for three years.

Last November, township voters rejected a 3.75-mill levy, which caused financial problems for the police department.

Trustee Chairman Fred Hanley said because of the defeat of the 3.75-mill levy, trustees have separated the proposal into two separate tax levies.

Hanley said levy renewal will bring no additional taxes for property owners and would keep the status quo for police budget items. The renewal levy runs through the end of 2019. The other 1.75-mill new additional levy will provide for operations and equipment needed by the department and will bring with it an additional tax on property owners.

According to officials, passage of the new additional levy would result in $76 in additional taxes to the owner of a home valued at $100,000.

Hanley said there will still be a deficit in the police fund again this year and into the future, and that is why the township is asking residents to pass the additional 1.75-mill levy — to support continued police operations.

Earlier this year the township received a $200,000 loan at 2.99 percent interest to cover payroll through June. Trustees have cut expenses, overtime and other police-related expenses. Spending within the police department was frozen with the loan covering payroll.

The trustees are seeking to avoid laying off police personnel.

Police Chief Todd Coonce has said because of state funding cuts and reduced property tax collections, more funding is needed just to maintain the police department as it currently operates.

Coonce said insurance increases, maintenance within the department and cruisers with more than 180,000 miles still running on the road result in needed additional funding.

“It has gotten critical to where we can’t afford to get anything for the police department. With everything costing more, the burden is again on the property owners to support operations,” Hanley said.

Hanley said this is the first time since he began serving as trustee that the board is taking out a loan, but the police fund was going to be “broke” by Jan. 20, he said.

Trustees have said the township has no courts, no fine money and no income tax to support operations. The state also has cut funding to local governments.

Over the years, the personal property tax has ended, the inheritance tax has disappeared and utilities like Ohio Edison no longer pay property taxes, trustees say.

The township has started using speed cameras on the interstate within the township to help generate funds for the department, but this has been met with controversy from local residents.

Trustees approved using Blue Line Solutions for a speed-camera program to monitor Interstate 80 within the township. Girard, Howland and Youngstown also use the company. Coonce said the I-80 section in the township had 240 accidents in a three-year period.

Hanley said the township would get 60 percent of the revenue and Blue Line Solutions gets 40 percent from fines generated from speeding motorists.

Trustees said the program is an effort to reduce traffic crashes and fatalities, citing an increase in Ohio traffic fatalities from 2015 to 2016. In the township, there were 218 reported crashes, one a fatal, from Jan. 1, 2015, to Dec. 13, 2018.

Officials said the levy monies will be used for increased expenses for maintenance of cruisers and computer systems and other safety equipment. A new cruiser would cost $40,000 with all equipment. Police radios require upgrade to MARCS standards

At a meeting earlier this year, officials said the township owed $1.6 million in unpaid property taxes. Hanley said about 1,100 residents and businesses owe taxes.

Hanley said last November was the first time a police levy was defeated in the township. The 3.75-mill continuous levy failed by 17 votes. It would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $88 per year.

Coonce said there was a situation recently where the department was down to a part-time person working at $10 per hour covering the entire township. Trustees will not allow overtime.

Coonce said he has tried to get federal Community Oriented Policing (COPS) grants since aging vehicles need repaired.