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Boardman police levy defeat puts trustees in a fiscal bind

Published: Wed, November 10, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

It’s easy to figure out why 8,043 res- idents of Boardman voted last week in favor of a special levy for the police department: They want more officers on the streets of the township.

But what’s not clear is the thinking of the 8,473 Boardmanites who rejected the 3.85-mill, five-year additional real-estate tax that was on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. Do they not share the concern of their fellow residents about the manpower shortage in the police department? Are they not worried about the growing crime problem in the community, as evidenced by the concerns voiced by residents of the Forest Glen and Newport Glen historic areas.

The failure of the levy, albeit by 400 or so votes, means that the trustees will not be able to meet their goal of adding 10 officers to the force in five years. That would have brought the force level to 57.

Reacting to the failure of the tax, Administrator Jason Loree suggested that Boardman is divided between residents who want more police and those who do not or cannot afford to pay more.

But he also pointed out the dilemma most governments are facing in this tough economic climate: “There’s a lot of people that are looking for us to do more, and we can’t do that right now.”

During the summer, when residents of the northern section of the township voiced concern about the increase in crime, police Chief Jack Nichols issued a list of activities planned by police and the township to address the concerns of all residents. Extra police visibility and teaching residents to protect themselves were among the initiatives.

The passage of the levy would have enabled the trustees to adopt a long-range crime-fighting strategy.

Now, they have to decide how to provide the services that residents expect within the strictures of the operating budget.

During a meeting Monday, trustees Larry Moliterno, Brad Calhoun and Tom Costello left little doubt that keeping the township in the black will require them to make some difficult choices.

For instance, they are thinking of returning a $413,148 federal grant that would pay for two police officers’ starting salaries for three years. The grant is conditioned upon the township paying for the fourth year.

It’s an option that Moliterno, Calhoun and Costello find unpalatable, but they may not have a choice if they are unable to come up with the money to meet the federal government’s grant requirement.

The question of whether the trustees will put the police levy on the May ballot was addressed in a general way. They said that asking residents to take another look at the additional tax is an option, but no decision was made Monday.

However, trustee Calhoun had no qualms about making his position known.

“My personal opinion, and I’m not speaking for the entire board, is that we need it, and we need the additional revenue,” he said.

Why the ‘no’ vote?

But before the trustees make the decision they should determine why half the voters who went to the polls last week said no.

An analysis of the precinct votes will show where there’s support and opposition. Armed with that information, the trustees should organize meetings throughout the township and listen to what the residents have to say about the operation of township government.

Is crime a major concern, or do the people believe government has enough money and just needs to establish priorities?

Based on what they learn, trustees will be able to make an informed decision.

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