The Liberty Twp. trustees are honing in on a police levy request to support funding for a new five-year contract with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office. STAFF PHOTO

Liberty Twp. official reverses on police levy, tax increase not likely

Trustee Board President Steve Schramm said he has done research and talked to the sheriff. When the trustees take the official ballot question vote next week, he’ll back a straight renewal. Previously, he favored a renewal plus a new 0.50-mill additional levy.

He said when he learned the township would be allowed to borrow from the general fund if funding becomes tight, as predicted, at the end of the five-year levy, he changed his mind.

RELATED: Liberty Twp. levy debate highlights police costs in Butler County

“We would have enough through the end of ‘24, and since we now could borrow the money to pay for a float, and then pay the money back, then we have the money to do it,” he said. “Mine was more of a cash flow analysis that said well heck yeah we can afford it, I don’t want to ask for that money until we need it.”

Administrator Kristin Bitonte told the trustees in May that, depending on how many 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.

Schramm said he also learned recently from Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds that the township doesn’t have to wait for tax day in April to get paid, if some levy taxes are paid earlier those funds can be released to the township.

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.

Trustee Tom Farrell has staunchly opposed raising taxes until they know for sure if they need to beef up staffing because of growth. He said history — in the township that has quadrupled over two decades — would suggest they don’t, at least not yet.

“My gut tells me we can make it through the five years without adding officers,” he said. “We went nine years with 24 officers, during that time our population increased by 5,000 and our calls increased by 6,000. We maintained it with 24 officers and that’s because we have the entire Butler County Sheriff’s Department behind us.”

Craft told the Journal-News township residents will have top-notch protection no matter what the trustees decide. He said the sheriff “has guaranteed that we will not cut their service.” If growth becomes unwieldy he said they will let the township know.

MORE: Butler County bill for police protection: $113 million. But not everyone pays the same.

“We have adequate staffing out there now and is there a chance that the staffing, which is extremely adequate, could maintain for five years, sure there is,” he said. “So we are prepared to give the citizens of Liberty Twp. the absolute best protection possible on whatever decision the trustees make.”

Trustee Christine Matacic said there is a chance she will make the vote unanimous, she is still doing her due diligence, but she is wary of relying on general funds to close a potential shortfall. Some major infrastructure work like a potential new interchange at Millikin Road will require significant funding.

Short staffing also concerns her, especially with the new businesses they are “starting to attract.”

“In my opinion we need to be prepared to add on deputies at a moment’s notice,” she said. “If we end up with just the renewal that does not give us the ability to add those deputies, we would have to go back to voters to add any deputies.”

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