Ross police department may be in jeopardy if levy requests fail, leaders say

Alternative is to have the Butler County Sheriff’s Office provide protection.

Ross Twp. taxpayers will see two tax questions on the November ballot to keep the police department afloat — a 3.75-mill renewal that won’t raise taxes and an additional 1.5 mills that would cost roughly $52 per $100,000.

The township trustees had several options in dealing with the police levy that expires this year, and settled last Thursday on asking voters to approve a renewal of the 3.75 mill levy — but also asking them to make it permanent — that costs $105 annually on a $100,000 home or $227on $215,000, the median Ross Twp. home value.

Since the existing levy collects about $800,000 annually and the police budget runs $900,000 to $1 million, the trustees are also asking for an additional 1.5 mills — for five years — to support a truly full-time police force. It would collect an estimated $361,053 annually.

Trustee Keith Ballauer told the Journal-News if the renewal fails, it would mean the end of local police protection, “it’s do or die but you’re always stuck in this position with these levies.”

“We’re stuck from years ago when Gov. (John) Kasich took all of our monies away to replace his coffers; we don’t have a fat general fund,” Ballauer said. “So the renewal, if it doesn’t fly, there is no money to dip into the general fund to hold the police department active until another levy could be run in May.”

He said originally he balked at the continuous levy approach, but as long as voters can be heard again on the 1.5 mill levy — if it passes — in five years he supports the permanent levy.

Trustees John Fisher said the continuous levy would help the police department in many ways, including recruitment and retention of police officers.

“If I could give them that chip to use I think that’s important,” Fisher said. “I think the community has supported and will continue to support the police, I don’t see that going away and that permanent feature in this I think would be the future for the township.”

The last time voters were asked to support the police they voted 62% to 38% in favor of the levy in 2018. Part of the promise then was to work toward a full-time police force by adding more staff.

Newly sworn-in Trustee Russ McGurrin concurred, saying “I think there needs to be a permanent funding mechanism” especially since the township is trying to attract new development.

“If we did not have a police department because we don’t have a permanent mechanism in place, I think they’d say well you don’t have much confidence in your town,” McGurrin said. “Why should I bring in a development and risk my money when you don’t even have your own police department.”

The alternative is to have the Butler County Sheriff’s Office provide protection. His is the law enforcement agency for the bulk of the townships in the county except for Fairfield, Ross and West Chester.

Ross and the other jurisdictions paying fees to use the sheriff’s dispatch center is part of the reason the current levy isn’t covering costs, according to Fiscal Officer Julie Joyce-Smith. Its dispatch fee for this year is around $82,000.

She said the levy was underperforming from the start due to a number of factors, and Police Chief Burton Roberts has been a “magician at maintaining a budget” and increased coverage with “creative scheduling” to get the job done.

“What we would really like to do now that we have an opportunity to renew this levy, is get a revenue stream that will actually support a truly full-time force,” Joyce-Smith said.

Roberts has eight full-time officers and one part-timer and he’s trying to hire another full-time person using American Rescue Plan Act. funds. Roberts said if they win approval they will be able to replace “antiquated” radios, squads with nearly 200,000 miles on them and buy investigative equipment, among other needs.

“It will help fund it so we can continue to provide the services the Ross community expects and deserves from us,” Roberts said.

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