Law enforcement officials fear cutbacks as a drug problem grows.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
SALEM -- Road salt or drug prevention?
That's the question troubling Columbiana County Prosecutor Robert Herron.
Herron, of Salem, has been trying to alert the county to its growing drug problem.
Earlier this month, Herron sent a letter to city officials saying, "Drugs have seriously degraded and afflicted some of the neighborhoods in the city and [Perry] Township."
Salem's Law Director, C. Brooke Zellers, said last week that there are drug houses in the city and that citizens should become more proactive.
Praise for officers
Herron's letter praised the city for having officers on two task forces. Salem has an officer working with a federal task force in Youngstown and another officer working with the county's drug task force.
Herron said the appointments demonstrated that Police Chief Robert Floor and city council "are determined to not be part of the problem, but rather, part of the solution."
Herron said his letter was motivated by information from city officials that the police department was going to cut three positions. That would end Salem's participation in the two drug task forces.
One of the officials, Councilman and finance committee chairman Greg Oesch, could not be reached.
Another official, Council President Tod Mumpire, said the city may have to adjust its spending to help capital improvements and purchases of material, such as road salt.
"It's better to be proactive than reactive," Mumpire said.
He added, "I don't like the drug problem any better than anyone else, and it's in my neighborhood."
City Auditor James Armeni asked council earlier this month if it wanted to change the present income tax that is split with 80 percent going to operating costs and the rest to capital improvements. Council has altered the split over the years but said nothing.
Armeni wanted to know the split to prepare a spending measure for the first three months of 2007.
Armeni said income tax revenue topped 3.8 million in 2005 and is up 2 percent this year.
He said of the budget, "I think we'll be OK."
The auditor added that no city officials have contacted him about spending.
Armeni said any cuts would have to be spread across other departments instead of coming from only one. Floor said losing three officers would cripple the police department, which he said is now stretched as far as it can go.
Herron said the officers on the task force are invaluable for gaining drug information. Floor added that the task forces and other law enforcement agencies cooperate and share information
"Policymakers have to make sure there is drug enforcement," Herron said, adding that patrol officers are not going to get the type of information that the task forces get to make busts.
The chief said people should know that Salem is still an extremely safe town. But he added, "If we don't have a drug enforcement program, drug dealers may think this might be a good place to operate."
Herron noted that city has recently seen drug related crimes such as an attempted robbery at an ice cream stand, the robbery and assault of a pizza deliveryman, and the beating death of a man outside a church.
The prosecutor said that if nothing changes, "In five or 10 years it's going to be pretty ugly."
Floor said efforts have been under way to have a drug prevention program at the Salem Community Center.