Ross police tax levy passes by slim margin: Could official count change outcome?

Provisional ballots and late-arriving absentee ballots are not included in election night total.

ROSS TWP. — One stoplight away from where voters decided the future of the township’s police department, Chief Burton Roberts sat in his office on Election Day.

The Journal-News visited him to talk about what it is like operating a department on the edge of financial disaster. A woman at the front desk took a note to the chief in his office. She told him a reporter wanted to ask what it was like running a police department that might be forced to close.

“I’m not answering that,” Roberts said loudly.

The door to his office was open, and the chief told the employee he would talk to the reporter after the election was over.

“Tell him: when the levy passes,” Roberts said, emphasizing the word, “when.”

He was right. Sort of.

Residents approved a tax levy to save the Ross Twp. Police Dept. by a wide margin, according to unofficial election results. A separate tax levy to raise additional funds for the department passed as well. But the difference was only 18 votes, according to unofficial results. The slim margin could result in a recount once all ballots are counted.

Provisional ballots and late-arriving absentee ballots are not included in election night totals, so election results will not be certified until Nov. 28.

In an interview Tuesday night, township Trustee Russ McGurrin said he wasn’t surprised with the results.

“I think Ross residents realized how much of a privilege it is that we have to have our own police department,” he said.

The police department has only been full-time since 2019, but was established in 1956. A tax levy that funds the department expires this year, and that is the reason for the renewal levy. Without it, officials say the department would not have the funds to operate.

The renewal will not raise taxes. But the other tax levy would increase funding for the department.

The additional tax levy would cost roughly $52 per $100,000 and generate about $361,053 annually. The police chief previously said he would use that money to replace outdated equipment and cruisers with nearly 200,000 miles on them.

If both levies had failed, officials would have turned to the Butler County Sheriff for coverage in the township. The county provides services for most townships in the county except for Fairfield, Ross and West Chester Twp.

It appears that scenario has been avoided.

Outside Elda Elementary School, where a steady stream of voters walked in before lunch on Tuesday, people in highlighter green T-shirts waved to cars. Their shirts said, “Ross Police Department” in bold letters.

“We still need the police officers,” said Bob Masters, 74. “They could use more.”

Masters, who has lived in Ross for three years, said he wasn’t aware of a state investigation into “payroll irregularities” in the police department. None of the voters the Journal-News spoke to on Election Day said the investigation played a factor in their decision. State and township officials have not said much about it, only that they don’t want to disturb an ongoing investigation.

“It’s a non-factor,” McGurrin said.

The trustee said there has been some angst with employees in the department, with its future up in the air. That’s why he said trustees and others threw their full support behind the tax levies.

“We believe in the police department,” McGurrin said.

One resident, who did not want his name published, voted against the tax levies. He was concerned with how officials have spent money in the Ross Local School District and expressed a similar sentiment about the police department. Earlier this year, a tax levy for Ross schools failed.

It was the third attempt at passing a school levy that failed recently.

This summer, Ross resident Anthony Joyce said he got in a motorcycle crash and spent 17 days in the hospital. The 66-year-old said sheriff’s deputies responded within a few minutes to the crash, but he worried about what could have happened if they were busy elsewhere. He said a doctor told him he could have lost his leg.

He voted for the tax levies.

Staff Writer Denise Callahan contributed to this report.

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