SANDY TWP. / Faced with the grim prospect of a dwindling general fund, Sandy Township trustees on Monday expressed concern over the ability to pay for police protection and took steps to put a police levy before voters in November.
"Our general fund has been in decline," noted trustee Bruce Weisburn. "It is to the point where something has to be done.
Sandy Township has contracted with the Magnolia Police Department for police protection since 1998 from a general fund that has been augmented by tipping fees collected from Waste Management American Landfill.
At the start of the police contract, tipping fees typically averaged $30,000 a month. According to Fiscal Officer Cathy McKinney, those topping fees today average $13,000 a month during summer months.
"We want to keep the service we have," Weisburn said. "We have been able to provide police protection for 18 years at no additional cost to voters."
The township has a contract with the Magnolia Police Department for $25 an hour for varying hours each month. While the protection is not 24//7, it is close, and personnel can be quickly dispatched in case of an emergency.
Police Chief Jeff Hager noted that the department has responded to 158 calls to date and has provided 1,522 hours. The township has paid nearly $40,000 for that police protection.
The township also provides a car for patrols in Sandy Township.
Trustees retained local attorney John McCall, who is a member of the Mohavk Valley Joint Fire District Board of Trustees, to serve as legal counsel.
McCall noted that in order to place a police levy on the ballot, trustees needed to form a police district that includes all of the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeunincorporated portions of the township. The district does not include the villages of Magnolia or Waynesburg and is only for the purpose of establishing the voting area for a levy.
Voters in the villages would not vote on the levy and they would not be subject to the tax if the levy is successful.
Trustees agreed to form the district for voting purposes. That information will be forwarded to the Stark County Auditor and the Stark County Board of Elections.
With the formation of the district, the township will ask the Stark County Auditor to determine property valuations and the amount a levy would generate.
The deadline for the township to place a levy on the fall ballot is Aug. 10.
Weisburn noted that a special meeting may be needed for trustees to approve a levy for the fall ballot.
"Unless something drastically changes, we do not have funds to provide police protection," Weisburn said.
With dwindling tipping fees, Weisburn noted the writing has been on the wall for several years.
"We hoped against hope," he said. "We have to do something."
Without police protection, Sandy Township revert back to protection from the Stark County Sheriff's Office.
Under the basic protection from the county, it could take up to three days for a deputy to respond to take a report.
Quad Ambulance would no longer have police support when responding to calls, including many situations that can be volatile. The fire district also depends on police assistance at emergency scenes.
Hager also noted that the sheriff's office is not available for private property accidents or to provide a report for deer hits so that the deer can be harvested.
To get the same level of service the township currently receives, it would cost more than $250,000 through the sheriff's office.
"This really is up to the voters," Weisburn said. "Do you want police protection or don't you?"
Trustees will determine the millage of a levy once the auditor sets the valuation, which will determine how much each mill will generate.
It is likely that a levy will be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016, to ensure the township begins to receive revenue next spring, if approved by voters.
"I want that to be clear," Weisburn pointed out. "We cannot support the police otherwise. It is that dire."
Weisburn noted that trustees are faced with no other alternative and ultimately it will be up to township voters to determine the fate of police protection in the township.
"The Magnolia Police Department has done a tremendous job for us," he added. "Even as crime has changed and drug use has been on the rise, they have been there to meet the challenge."
Weisburn also offered a word of caution to anyone who thinks the sheriff's office can provide the same level of service the township currently has without any additional cost.
"In the reality of Stark County, we are the smallest cog in the wheel," he said. "We find that unpleasant, but it is the reality. Even when we pay the same, we are the bottom rung on the ladder."
In other business, trustees:
/ RECEIVED a nuisance property complaint for a vacant property at 7160 Minerva Rd. The property has high grass, a camper and a garage that has collapsed. Hager agreed to take photos of the site to be sent to the Stark County Health Department.
/ HEARD a road department truck needs two front tires. Trustee Bob Fallot asked Road Supervisor Gary McKinney to get a price for used tires. "Right now, I can't see buying new tires," he said.
/ LEARNED a State Route 44 construction project will close the road for about five days after Labor Day. The Ohio Department of Transportation will post detours during the project.
/ PAID bills totaling $11,987.24.