Monday trustees meeting to be the last before vote
By Ashley Luthern
The sign in Dennis Keith’s yard reads “Boardman Police Levy is a Caustic idea! Vote no.”
Keith is part of a group of township residents who oppose the 3.85-mill, five-year additional police levy on the Aug. 2 special election ballot.
He said he paid for 50 yard signs and chose the word caustic because “it’s going to turn into a caustic situation.”
As an adjective, caustic is defined as “capable of destroying or eating away by chemical action, corrosive” or “marked by direct sarcasm.”
The levy would generate about $3.8 million annually and cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $117 annually. Keith said he’s tired of the taxes.
“I would like to get my drive sealed, but I’m supposed to dig up an extra $100 for this levy,” he said.
Another problem he has with the levy, he said, is that the trustees plan to return money to the general fund that’s currently going to the police department.
Although the entire $3.8 million generated annually by the police levy would go to the police department, the amount going to the department from the general fund would be reduced by about $2.4 million, trustees have said. The police budget still would increase overall from $7.1 million to $8.5 million.
Keith, who has lived in Boardman for 25 years, said the township should cut wages and use the savings to hire more police officers.
“Use cost reduction to get more staff,” he said. “They can afford it. They have to have the manhood to say, ‘I need this or that,’” to the unions.
Township Administrator Jason Loree said that the police department will have six years of pay freezes by the time the current contract ends.
“We did ask for concessions,” Loree said, saying some concessions, such as the pay freezes and lower starting wages for officers at $16 per hour, were agreed to. He also pointed to nearly $500,000 in health-insurance savings.
Loree asked for residents with questions to attend the next trustees meeting, which is 5:30 p.m. Monday at the township government center. It is the last trustees meeting before the levy vote.
Keith said members of the group campaigning against the levy have filed election complaints with state and local election offices. Although he said former township trustee Kathy Miller is part of the anti-levy group, Miller said she has answered only a few questions from Keith about possible levy campaign violations.
Miller’s son, Nathan Miller, filed an elections complaint at the Mahoning County Board of Elections in recent weeks.
Nathan Miller said he had several concerns in his elections complaint, including the size of the “United Against Crime” signs.
“They have these signs ... and they were out 30 days before the election” against township ordinances, he said.
Township Zoning Inspector Anna Mamone said the “United Against Crime” signs that were out in the public did not have any reference to an election until the 30-day period began. The township zoning code states that political campaign signs are limited to 6 square feet in residential districts and 12 square feet in all other districts and shall be posted only on private property.
“The bigger signs were put up a while ago, and none of them said anything about the levy, just ‘United Against Crime,’ and those were all on private property and with permission from owners,” Mamone said.
Miller argued the large signs are on public property, specifically the government center and a fire station, and that for a time, yard signs with political disclaimers were available for pickup at the police and fire stations.
George Farris, a member of the Boardman Coalition Against Crime, which has put out the signs, said yard signs are no longer offered at the fire and police stations.
He said that any concerns have been addressed and stressed that though the coalition does support the passage of the police levy, it also advocates for residents to report crimes in progress and form block watches.
“Anything that was done that was technically wrong was remedied,” Farris said. “Our goal as a coalition is to uphold the law, not break it.”
Jeff Barone, treasurer of the Boardman Coalition Against Crime, filed paperwork in April that did register the coalition as a levy committee, which is a nonprofit enterprise. Barone said it is likely that the coalition will continue after the levy and will try to obtain 501(c)3 status.
Nathan Miller said some of the large “United Against Crime” signs now specifically mention the police levy without a political disclaimer.
“If there are materials that are campaign-related and intended to impact outcome of the election, they are supposed to have a disclaimer. If they’re issued by a PAC or an organized levy committee, a candidate or political party, it is required to put a disclaimer on them,” said Philip C. Richter, executive director and staff attorney for the Ohio Elections Commission.
Richter said his office has not received any complaints as of Friday. The Mahoning County Board of Elections did confirm it received a complaint from Nathan Miller.
Nathan Miller and Keith said they also thought the literature sent out by the coalition was “tacky” and a “scare tactic.” The flier said “Meet Your Neighbors” and displayed the mug shots of two criminals, one white and one black, from Boardman. It also contained text that said “Criminals are settling in our neighborhoods, running drug houses, and committing burglaries and robberies. They know there is more to get from our residents and businesses than there is on the south side of Youngstown.”
Kathy Miller said she thought “it had a strong racial undertone.”
Trustee Tom Costello, who said he did not see the flier before it was sent out, said he thought the coalition handled the material appropriately.
“Quite honestly, we were sensitive. We did not want this to become a race issue. This is a safety issue,” he said. “Crime doesn’t know race just like it doesn’t know boundaries.”