By jeanne starmack
Safety of residents and officers has to be the primary concern in a consolidation of police forces, say officials in Hubbard, Hubbard Township and Brookfield.
Even if there is a cost savings in forming a joint police district, they said, the manpower has to be there to cover the same area with the same or better services.
The Youngstown State University Center for Urban and Regional Studies performed a study on forming a joint district for the three government entities.
YSU representatives involved in the study presented the results to police chiefs, union representatives, township trustees and city officials at a meeting Wednesday morning at the Hubbard police station. State Rep. Sean O’Brien of Hubbard, D-63rd, also attended.
The study offered information on how a district is formed and what should be considered in doing so, but it is up to the three communities to decide if consolidation is right for them, the urban studies representatives said.
If it goes forward, the district would be the first one in the state. Legislation allowing their creation is relatively new, said Tom Maraffa, a professor of geography who is on the study team.
The district would include services for 22,400 people and would have expenditures of $3 million.
The study recommends 30 full-time and 32 part-time employees. Hubbard now has 13 full-time employees, and 15 work part-time; Hubbard Township has nine full-time and 10 part-time employees; and Brookfield has eight full-time and eight part-time employees.
A joint district, Maraffa said, is legally separate from the governments that created it. It is financed independently through a district-wide property tax and would have its own governing board. Representatives from each community would be on that board.
The board would be responsible for hiring and employee training, insurance, purchases and lease agreements, mutual-aid agreements and tax levies.
The townships fund their police departments through levies, and Hubbard funds its with an income tax.
The district would have to be financed by a levy, at 9.9 mills, rather than an income tax, because a levy is fixed while an income tax fluctuates. In Hubbard, there are a lot of retirees, city auditor Mike Villano pointed out.
Mayor John Darko said he does not believe a levy would pass in the city. “No senior citizen will vote for a millage tax,” he said. “We need to find a different way of doing it.”
Another issue to consider, the study points out, is “significant” differences in pay schedules, compensation and terms of employment in the collective- bargaining units.
Hubbard and Hubbard Township union representatives, Patrolman Michael Banic and Sgt. Dominick Guarino, both said there are too many unanswered questions for them to form opinions right now on the idea of a joint district.
Hubbard Township Trustee Thomas Jacobs said the most-important issue for him is good service.
“Any citizen would be concerned,” he said. “They want to know that someone would be there in a timely manner,” adding that he doesn’t have a “clear picture” from the proposal.
Another question is how to raise short-term costs to fund the transition, with many in the audience asking about state grants.
O’Brien said it is possible to get those grants.
“I think being the first to do it will help us get some money,” he said.
Hubbard police Chief James Taafe said a consolidation would have to benefit the residents, and he believes a transition from income tax to a levy won’t be easy. But, he said, he understands merging government services is “the new reality.”
Hubbard Township police Chief Todd Coonce said the state has to help with costs. “There’s a lot of roadblocks that could prevent this from moving forward, he said.
Brookfield police Chief Dan Faustino said he doesn’t see an increase or better services. “Look at the numbers,” he said.
The study panel will hear questions and concerns for 10 days, and expects to issue a revised report in October.