As Liberty Twp. wrestles with setting a police levy request, Trustee Tom Farrell surveyed 12 similarly situated communities and found township residents each pay about $73 a year for police protection compared to the average of $160.
The trustees were set to vote Tuesday night on five resolutions of necessity with various funding options so the Butler County Auditor’s Office can give them hard numbers on what each millage amount will generate and cost residents.
Finance Director Michelle Greis recently gave the trustees estimates for various options. 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 Christine Matacic said they don’t have to make a final decision on the amount until early August, so she wants to cull as much information as she can. She said there is an outside chance the legislature might reverse itself on the Homestead exemption, a happenstance that has tied their hands to a degree.
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 in that option. If the expiring levy is disturbed, taxpayers would lose their state-paid Homestead Exemption tax rollbacks.
“I’ve asked if they’re ever going to give us back the rollback and the Homestead they had taken away,” she said
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. The question is when those extra bodies are going to be absolutely necessary.
Farrell also compared per-resident costs the trustees were seeking a fire levy two years ago.
Based on Liberty Twp.’s 40,000 population and the $2.9 million sheriff’s budget, it costs each resident just more than $73 per year. The resident-to-officer ratio is 1,481, and the 27 deputies patrolling Liberty’s streets responded to 21,136 calls for service last year.
Neighboring West Chester Twp. runs its own police department and with a $18.6 million budget, the cost for each of the township’s 64,237 residents is $289, according to Farrell’s survey. The resident-to-officer ratio is 764, and 84 officers responded to 46,057 calls.
West Chester Trustee Board President Mark Welch’s first reaction was “wow” when he heard Farrell’s numbers. He did a little digging and found the budget may be $18 million, but they actually spend around $13 million. The budget also included about $800,000 for the bulk purchase of new Motorola radios and some other big ticket, one-time items.
Farrell said the survey proves to him that until growth numbers prove they need more deputies, he doesn’t want to ask for more than he feels they need.
“I’m not trying to by any stretch of the imagination decrease the safety of our residents, that will always be the utmost concern,” he said. “But we need to be prudent and frugal with their money. At this point in time, this year 2019, I do not see any reason to ask for more money.”
Trustee Board President Steve Schramm was initially concerned if they go for a renewal plus a new levy voters might think it is an either/or question and pick the lower number. He’s been assured they can just have one levy question.
“I believe it can be sold as one, a three plus a whatever and it’s one vote,” he said. “Not vote on either/or.”