The Liberty Twp. trustees approved a new five-year, $3 million contract with the Butler County sheriff’s office, one that will not require a tax increase.
The new contract includes 3 percent raises for the first three years, mirroring the sheriff’s contract with his unions, and it drops to 2 percent for the final two years.
“In the last two years if their new contract then is more than two percent, then the sheriff’s office obviously is going to eat that difference,” Trustee Tom Farrell said. “If it’s less than that we’re still going to pay the two percent.”
Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said the office should be able maintain the contract within budget.
“The last two (years) of this contract, it’s an unknown, so we out a placeholder in place and based on staffing we should be able to manage our current staffing levels with that revenue,” Dwyer said. “There are several people out and based on their tenure that changes whether you have a senior deputy or a new deputy, we’re pretty good at watching our finances to make sure we stay within budget.”
While negotiating this contract sheriff’s Major Mike Craft recommended the growing township add four new deputies over the course of the agreement. The township’s police levy coincides with the contract and the trustees debated for a couple months whether to approve Craft’s recommendation, which would have necessitated an increase the levy the request.
The trustees voted 2- 1 in July to ask voters for a straight renewal of the 3-mill levy in November.
Farrell and Trustee Board President Steve Schramm agreed to a wait-and-see approach, while Trustee Christine Matacic said she was concerned the township looks like it is “unprepared” for future growth.
“Our taxpayers don’t want us to come back now and then in two years come back to them again,” she said. “Because that makes it look like we’re not prepared and building towards the future for them. That’s my biggest concern.”
She argued for a renewal plus a new 0.50-mill levy, which would have cost an extra $17 per $100,000 of valuation. She said she has polled residents and they were willing to pay “a little bit extra” to prepare for the future.
Farrell was against raising taxes from the beginning. He did a survey of other similarly situated jurisdictions in the region and found Liberty residents pay about $73 each compared to the average of $160.
He and Schramm say if rapid growth continues in the township they can always add some manpower and ask voters for more money. The township, whose population has quadrupled over the last two decades, added two deputies in 2016 and a sergeant in 2017, bringing the police staff up to 27.
The new contract spells out that an additional deputy would cost $85,000 next year and up to $97,540 in the fifth year with the built-in raises.
The vote on the new contract was unanimous.
“It gives us the option of adding personnel if and when we need them,” Matacic said. “And the big question will be how do you pay for them.”
Even with no new personnel the township will likely 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 April 2025.
Schramm said if they are running low on funds at the end of the sheriff’s contract they can ask the county to release early tax payments which should carry them through and if not, they can tap the general fund for a short-term loan.
“That April date is when they have to distribute the funds but we can actually petition for them earlier if we’re concerned,” he said after the levy vote. “So the last year in November we can say we want our money as soon as you get it if we feel like it’ll be an issue. So I feel like I’ve got enough safeguards so let’s save our residents a million bucks.”