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Police union to call in a fact finder

Township wants to dissolve department due to funding

HUBBARD TOWNSHIP — Year-end contract negotiations show that township trustees are considering disbanding the police department and using the Trumbull County Sheriff’s office to serve the area and save money.

Despite multiple negotiations with trustees, the Hubbard Township police union plans to bring in a fact finder to mediate the situation.

The trustees have made it clear that the department is struggling financially and even with the supporting levy that was approved in May, the money won’t be seen until April 2020.

“The new levy money will help, but it’s not enough,” Trustee Rick Hernandez said. “Our responsibility is to keep the community safe with whatever money we have.”

A union letter from Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 85 President Chris Gifford states that despite negotiations and attempts to suggest ways to cut costs, the trustees still believe the department has no money.

“A forensic accountant with the FOP / OLC disputed the financial crisis. She stated that talk of layoffs, pay cuts or disbanding the police department was not necessary. In fact, she stated that the police and general funds were stable,” the union letter states.

This forensic accountant works for the union and because the negotiations are deadlocked, the union plans to bring in a fact finder to evaluate the situation.

“The accountant found that we should have $44,000 at the end of the year,” Gifford said. “The trustees keep saying we’ll be in the negative and have to take out loans.”

The letter also states the verbal contingency offered to the trustees. For 2020, the union offered to take a wage freeze, no overtime, no taking home cruisers and waiving the uniform allowance. In return, the union wants a new police chief.

“We just need a change, things have been stagnant,” Gifford said.

Police Chief Todd Coonce said he has not seen the union letter yet, but had heard of the new leadership request “through the grapevine.”

“I’ve done quite a bit over the years for this department and it’s unfortunate that there are disgruntled employees,” Coonce said. “I don’t like to toot my own horn, but there comes a time when you have to.”

Coonce said he will formally “break his silence” on this matter once an agreement has been reached.

For now, the township has countered with a 10 percent decrease in wages and a 10 percent increase in health care costs.

“We appreciate the (union’s) offer but it would not supply the funding needed to keep the department solvent,” Hernandez said. “What they’re asking for is easier said than done. You don’t just get rid of a police chief. And this is all hinged on the status of the police fund. We can’t bring in money that isn’t there. We can’t just keep going round and round.”

If the union doesn’t accept the trustees’ proposal, the department will be dissolved and the sheriff’s office will take over. According to the township’s legal counsel, if township officers want to work for the sheriff’s office, they’d “have to apply and go through the process like anyone else.”

Using the sheriff’s office would cost $200,000 less than the $1.2 million per year it takes to run the current department, according to Hernandez.

bshiller@tribtoday.com