After concluding that a vote in May vote was too soon for a 3.85-mill police levy in Boardman that was rejected by residents last November, Boardman Township trustees have decided to take their chances with the public in a special election in August that will cost $40,000 to $50,000.
Trustees Thomas Costello, president of the board, Larry Moliterno and Brad Calhoun can expect to be asked a slew of questions as they campaign for the levy, including this one: Why not wait until the November general election, when it would cost the township nothing to have the issue on the ballot?
Moliterno provided somewhat of an answer Monday, when the board unanimously approved the first reading of a resolution that would be sent to the Mahoning County Board of Elections for certification.
“The whole township is working very hard with limited resources, but the time has come where you can’t wait until November or next year,” he said. “I think we have to act now.”
However, given the national economic climate and the fact that governments at all levels are feeling a budgetary pinch, Boardman residents will need details about the township’s finances and what lies ahead if they are to be swayed to vote for the police levy. Would three months — August to November — cause that much of a hardship for the township?
There’s no doubt that Boardman government, like all governments in the Mahoning Valley, is facing an uncertain future as a result of the economic recession and Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s proposal, contained in his biennium budget, to slash the Local Government Fund.
Even so, having a special election in August for a levy that was defeated in November, albeit by 430 votes, is risky. Success or failure depends on who turns out on a midsummer day.
Finally, there’s the growing negative attitude about public employees exacerbated by Republican Gov. Kasich and the Republican controlled General Assembly making the argument that taxpayers can no longer sustain the cost of government. The Republicans have passed a new law that takes away many rights enjoyed by public employees under Ohio’s collective bargaining statute.
Critics of Senate Bill 5, led by the public sector unions, are gathering signatures to place the issue on the November general election ballot so Ohio voters can have a say.
Nonetheless, Kasich and the GOP leadership are determined to proceed with cuts across the board, which means local governments will have to tighten their belts.
Trustees Costello, Moliterno and Calhoun must be prepared to clearly demonstrate to the residents what benefits would be derived from the $3.6 million a year the levy would generate.
The police department has a budget of $7 million, of which $4.2 million comes out of the general fund; $1.5 million is generated by a continuing levy that was passed in the 1970s, and $1.3 million is from a safety forces levy approved in 2008.
If the 3.85-mill levy is approved in August, $2 million or so from the police coffers would be returned to the general fund. But trustees insist there would still be more money in the department to hire additional officers.
This is a difficult environment in which to persuade taxpayers to dig deeper into their pockets, but it can be done if the trustees and other township officials make themselves available to the residents and open government’s books for public review.
People’s distrust of government that can only be overcome with transparency.