Deciding the fate of a police levy


By Ashley Luthern


Boardman would join the ranks of other large Ohio townships that fund law enforcement almost exclusively through a police levy — if the issue remains on the May ballot and if voters say yes.

Township trustees have said they will take the 3.85-mill, five-year additional police levy off the ballot if the township’s insurance committee does not approve a change in the health-insurance-plan design. The committee votes on the changes this morning.

In 2008, voters approved a 2.2-mill safety levy for both police and fire. Boardman voters also approved a police district in the 1970s which included a continuing levy that now generates about $1.5 million annually.

The new levy on the May ballot would be designated for the police department and would generate about $3.7 million annually, if approved. It would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 an additional $116.80 annually.

Boardman’s police budget is $7 million of a $16 million township budget. Officials have said previously that if the levy is approved, the general fund dollars going to the police department will be scaled back, possibly by $2 million, but the police budget will still increase overall to about $8.6 million. The amount returned to the general fund would be used to maintain township services.

Most of the state’s big townships are in southwest Ohio. Of the 10 largest townships, Boardman is one of two without a dedicated police levy. The other is Anderson in Hamilton County, which also has a combined police and fire levy. Marion Township is in the top 10, but does not have a police department or police budget.

Boardman trustees have said that specific levies empower voters, and that’s a sentiment echoed by township officials around the state.

“We must put on what people want or they won’t vote for it. They are not voting for general purpose levies, and they are not voting for park levies in my opinion,” said Kevin T. Celarek, Green Township administrator.

Green Township is also in Hamilton County and has a police budget of $4.3 million, funded through a police levy and a public-safety levy, Celarek said. The township has 33 township officers and contracts for 12 deputies from the county, he said.

Anderson Township borders the eastern part of Cincinnati and has a population of about 45,000.

Anderson contracts with the Hamiliton County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement within township limits, said Administrator Vicky Earhart.

“Of the 35 deputies assigned to [the area], the township contracts for 25 of those deputies. We have budgeted $2.5 million for the contract,” she said.

Anderson has a public-safety levy that generates funds to support police and fire services.

Boardman, like Green, has 45 sworn officers. In Boardman this number is down from a high of 63 officers in 2006. West Chester Township in Butler County has the most officers — 88 — of the 10 largest Ohio townships and has a population of 54,895.

The police department “is primarily funded through a police levy voted on by our taxpayers in West Chester and small bits of money from other sources. The police budget is $14.8 million, and of that, salaries of officers account for $8.8 million,” said Barbara Wilson, the township’s public information officer.

In Austintown Township, with about 38,000 people, the force has shrunk over the years, from 45 sworn officers in 2002 to 37 now. The police department has its own levy and about a $5 million budget — $4.1 million coming from specific levy revenues and $900,000 from the general fund, said Administrator Michael Dockry.

“Since I’ve been here, [the levies] have never been sufficient to support either the fire department and police department,” Dockry said.

Dockry recalled a police levy in 1994 that failed, but said the police and fire levies have been overwhelmingly successful.

“People really don’t want to pass general fund levies. I think they want a better idea how their money is going to be spent,” he said.

Boardman had 48 instances of violent crime in 2009, compared to 17 in Austintown and 73 in West Chester, according to FBI crime statistics. Data was not available online from Anderson and Green townships, and 2010 data has not been compiled yet.

Those same statistics show 73 reported incidents of violent crime in Boardman in 2008. The 2008 numbers for rape, robbery, motor vehicle theft and burglary are higher than numbers for 2009 — but that can be misleading, said Police Chief Jack Nichols.

For example, with fewer officers on patrol, police are missing crimes they would have caught on the road, Nichols said. “It does not mean that crime is down.”

The number of all incidents per officer jumped from 629 in 2005 to 719 in 2010, Nichols said.

“With the number (of officers) we have, we’re just not adequately policing this community,” he said.

The FBI advises caution with yearly crime statistics: “Until data users examine all the variables that affect crime in a town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction, they can make no meaningful comparisons,” according to the FBI website.

For Boardman, those variables include geography and business, said Administrator Jason Loree.

“I’m not afraid to say the South Side of Youngstown has some challenges that greatly impact Boardman’s north side, and we have to deal with those as Youngstown has to deal with those,” Loree said.

Because of the township’s location, Loree said, it faces a “tougher challenge than most.”

North-south roads, such as Glenwood Avenue, Market Street and Interstate 680, make it easy for crime to travel from the city to Boardman, he said.

“Crime doesn’t know a border. It will go where it thinks it can get away with the most,” he said.

Boardman also has to protect a large retail corridor that draws nearly 100,000 people through the area daily, based on traffic studies, Loree said.

Anderson Township has a similar business district.

“We do have a strong business corridor with restaurants and shopping,” Earhart said.

These retail areas tend to require more attention from law enforcement officials, whether it’s because of thefts or the sheer increase in people traveling through the township, Loree said.

The Mahoning County sales tax generated more than $27 million in 2010, which was used for county services and not given to local government.

While it is estimated that 50 percent of that revenue is generated in Boardman, only a small portion of the state sales tax makes its way into the township budget through the Local Government Fund, which is expected to be slashed when the state’s budget is released next month, Loree said.

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