Liberty Twp. likely to add more deputies, but a levy request might not mean more taxpayer money

Liberty Twp. taxpayers can expect a police levy question on the November ballot, and it is looking like more taxes won’t be part of the request — for now.

The township is renegotiating a new five-year contract with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office. Major Mike Craft has recommended that the growing township add four new deputies over the course of the contract. The 3-mill levy generates about $2.3 million, and the sheriff’s contract cost just less than $2.8 million this year. The township has some smaller revenue sources to pay for the contract, as well.

Administrator Kristin Bitonte told the trustees Tuesday that, depending on how many new deputies are added, the township will need to find another funding source to sustain the four months between the end of the next levy and the first cash installment of a new levy in 2025.

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“As you’ll see in 2024 we can make it to that next levy cycle, we just can’t make it to the next four months without having to subsidize somehow,” she said. “So that’s the struggle that we’re having with this whole renewal and what we’re seeing with the contract. How do we balance the two.”

The township hasn’t asked voters for more money for police protection since 2009, when the township population was around 33,000. Today, there are about 42,000 residents, according to Trustee Christine Matacic. She asked staff to calculate what adding a small new levy would generate.

“We like to look at all possible options. Staff is going to put together if we went for a quarter, or a half or a 1 mill type of scenario what would that generate,” Matacic told the Journal-News. “It’s just something to take a look at so that we make sure that what we’re doing is in the best interest of the community.”

If the expiring levy is disturbed, taxpayers would lose their state-paid Homestead Exemption tax rollbacks. That’s one of the reasons officials are considering a possible additional levy.

Trustee Board President Steve Schramm asked how big of a deal it would be to go for a replacement for the taxpayers, because, “I don’t want to go out to a point where I have zero dollars.”

Tom Emrick, a resident who sits on the township finance committee, said it is a big deal.

“It makes a big difference to me as a taxpayer,” Emrick said. “Because if it’s a renewal we just soldier on the way we’ve been going, and we have the service we have. If you change anything then instead of the state paying that 12 percent of it that comes to me to pay.”

Back in the 1970s, the state legislature wanted to sell a sales tax to Ohioans, so it promised tax levy rollbacks that eventually totalled 12.5 percent. That rollback was erased in 2014.

The trustees for 18 months debated a fire levy and won voter approval for a 3.5-mill continuous levy in November 2017. Trustee Tom Farrell said he won’t go back on a promise he made to taxpayers back then.

“We knocked on 1,500 doors telling them that there wasn’t going to be a tax increase on the police,” he said. “I am firmly against it.”

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He did however suggest the township can go for a renewal this November, without needing an increase, cut back the number of new personnel and wait and see if a small new levy is warranted by growth in the next few years.

“If we budget this so we don’t run out of money on paper by adjusting the personnel, and as we get closer to that when we realize we absolutely need additional personnel, that’s when we can go back to the public for an additional police levy,” he said. “We’re going to pay for those additional personnel. That will be a separate levy and keeping this one at its current rate and taking advantage of the Homestead.”

Schramm and Matacic appear to be in favor of that solution, and Craft said the sheriff’s office will work with them, adjusting the number of additional deputies needed in the contract.

“One way or another we’re going to make this work,” Craft said. “The sheriff supports the renewal 100 percent, he thinks that’s the smart way to go right now. And if we get into a position, we can wait two years to put on a deputy and then you’ve had a true savings for the first two years.”

Matacic said officials and their residents need to be realistic when it comes to safety services and what they cost and what it costs as Liberty continues to grow.

“Any time I’ve talked to residents I say, ‘Hey, we’re a growing community, I’m not going to guarantee you that I’m not going to come back to for more taxes, because there’s going to be services that we need,’” she said.

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