Liberty Twp. needs more deputies, but how many? Growth, Liberty Center complicate decisions

Rapid growth and $350 million mega Liberty Center development are creating challenges for projecting police needs difficult for Liberty Twp. trustees as they decide how much funding to ask voters to approve in November.

Finance Director Michelle Greis gave the trustees estimates for various options this week. They range from a straight renewal and no tax increase to an additional $35 per $100,000 in home value to a total of $112 more per resident if they choose a renewal plus a new 1-mill levy.

Trustee Tom Farrell is adamant about not raising taxes, a promise he made to voters while stumping for the recent fire levy. He said he knows in time the township’s growth will push the need to add more deputies and dollars to the police budget, but he wants to wait and see.

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“I am not willing to increase taxes until we absolutely need them,” he said. “And if we continue to grow we will.”

He said the township’s growth projections are based on the past five years, a period that includes the introduction of the $350 million Liberty Center. He said he’d rather wait until he sees 2020 census numbers to get a truer picture of growth before asking for more money.

“We’ll have a better idea of our growth rate, we don’t know if we’re going to grow the same,” he told the Journal-News. “We know we’re going to grow, there are no doubts about our growth. The last five years included a $350 million mega facility and as much as I’d like two or three more of those in the next five years, is that realistic.”

Liberty Center opened in October 2015 and calls for service have increased 22 percent since 2014. Last year, the sheriff’s outpost answered 21,136 calls.

The township is negotiating a new five-year contract with the Butler County sheriff for police coverage, and Major Mike Craft has recommended adding four deputies over the life of the contract. Farrell said he wants to wait to see when additional deputies become absolutely necessary.

Greis estimates the township needs to generate $3.27 million to cover the new contract with raises and additional deputies. A straight renewal would bring in $2.66 million, adding a new 0.5 mill levy would generate $3.2 million and an additional 1-mill levy would total $3.7 million.

Trustee Christine Matacic is “leaning” toward the renewal plus a new 0.5-mill levy option.

“The renewal will bring in $2.661 million, our services are costing us more than that,” she said. “Yes we do have some carryover but we don’t have enough carryover in my mind to be able to adequately service the safety of our residents.”

The trustees have debated a renewal versus a replacement, which would capture new valuations and bring in an estimated $3.3 million, but there is a catch. 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.

The exemption saves taxpayers about $11 on $100,000 worth of valuation.

Trustee Board President Steve Schramm said he is concerned if the township puts two levy requests on the November ballot, some voters might not realize it isn’t an “either/or question.”

“The fear that I have is if we go out with, say, a 3 percent renewal to get the Homestead exemption and then ask for a half percent or a one percent increase, they will be two separate asks of our electorate,” Schramm said.

“I’m worried they might be just uninformed enough they would vote in the one percent and vote out the three percent thinking it was an either or. We could find ourselves truly being underwater if we do that.”

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