Austintown officials: Levy increase necessary to maintain police operations
By Justin Wier
A replacement levy and increase on the May 8 primary ballot will more than double the levy’s annual cost to an owner of a $100,000 home, but township officials say it’s necessary for the police department to maintain the status quo.
“We just want the levy to maintain what we have now,” police Chief Bob Gavalier said.
“We want to maintain the manpower, not to add anymore.”
The township employs 41 officers, but the township receives grant funding to employ five of those officers that will expire in 2019.
The 2.4-mill replacement levy also adds an additional .08 mills and will increase the levy’s revenue from $1,089,926 to $1,990,583.
It will increase the annual cost to the owner of a $100,000 home from $51.92 to $112.
Trustee Jim Davis said declines in state funding have also contributed to the need to increase levies.
State revenue to the police department declined from $1.5 million in 2010 to $305,000 in 2017, according to the department.
“It’s almost comical that Columbus continues to think that we can just continue to raise the taxes of the people in our communities,” Davis said. “We need some source of funding.”
He said the police department has received the most from Austintown’s general fund. In 2017, the department had a budget of $5.8 million.
“If you free up money in the general fund, we can do more roads,” Trustee Ken Carano said.
The police department’s four levies, which date back to 1976, generate an estimated $4,481,481 annually.
Davis said other communities have used speed cameras to generate revenue, but the Ohio House recently passed a bill that would reduce a community’s state funding by the amount it generated using speed cameras.
“Where else is there to get money?” Davis asked.
While Austintown employs 41 officers, nearby Boardman Township, which has about 40,000 residents to Austintown’s 36,000, employs 60 officers.
“We’re below what I think the standard should be,” Davis said.
Gavalier said in addition to maintaining the five officers with grant-funded salaries, the additional revenue could be used to restore the township’s police dog units, update the township’s outdated record-management software and install audio and video systems into police cars to increase transparency.
Davis said the township does not take levy increases lightly.
“We manage our budget as strictly as possible, so when we ask our residents for a levy, they know it’s important,” he said.
“This is imperative for our township [police department] to continue operations.”