Liberty Twp. residents to decide on police levy renewal

The Liberty Twp. trustees voted 2-1 to ask voters to approve a 3-mill police levy renewal in November. STAFF PHOTO
The Liberty Twp. trustees voted 2-1 to ask voters to approve a 3-mill police levy renewal in November. STAFF PHOTO

Liberty Twp. residents will vote next month on a police levy renewal that officials stress will not raise taxes.

The trustees voted to put the 3-mill levy renewal on the Nov. 5 ballot, and the vote was not unanimous. Trustee Christine Matacic argued for a renewal plus a new 0.50-mill levy, which would have cost an extra $17 per $100,000 of home valuation.

With the straight renewal, Trustee Board President Steve Schramm said residents should see a tax cut.

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“We’re not raising taxes, actually you could argue we’re lowering taxes,” Schramm said. “If we just fix the levy and extend it, every time new people move into the neighborhood it gets divided by another denominator, so it does actually lower taxes over time.”

In the township that has quadrupled over the past two decades, trustees say it is difficult to predict needs five years out. The township contracts with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office for police protection, and Major Mike Craft had recommended adding four new deputies over the course of the new five-year contract. The trustees ratified a new $3 million deal with the sheriff last month with no additional staff.

The trustees debated a renewal or a replacement, which would capture new valuations and bring in an estimated $3.3 million, but there is a catch in that option. If the expiring levy is disturbed, taxpayers would lose their state-paid Homestead Exemption tax rollbacks.

“Without this levy passing we lose $249,000 a year from the rollback and Homestead because the state reimburses us for it on this levy,” Matacic said. “So we need this levy to pass. Would I love to see a little bit more on this? Yes. But for our residents safety and security, for the future of this community, we need this levy to pass.”

Schramm sided with Matacic in the beginning, but after he gathered more information, he decided to take a wait-and-see approach, knowing the township can return to the ballot, if necessary.

“Unless we get some ungodly increase in homes over the next five years and it’s something other than the trend that we’ve seen from the last five, I’m comfortable that we’ll be okay,” Schramm said. “We only added bodies one time during the giant increase that we had over the last 10 years, so I don’t think the trajectory is anywhere near that.”

The township added two deputies in 2016 and a sergeant in 2017, bringing the police staff up to 27.

Trustee Tom 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 said if the population increases “significantly” the township will consider adding deputies at that time.

“I don’t believe in spending or asking for additional money until it’s needed. There’s too many unknowns in the future for us to use our crystal ball,” Farrell said. “What we do know is for the next five years we feel as though the coverage that we have will be sufficient to service the residents.”

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