Ross Twp. trustees ask residents not to let BCI investigation influence police levy requests

The Ross Twp. trustees are urging voters not to let an Ohio Bureau of Investigations probe into “payroll irregularities” in the police department influence their decision on two tax levy requests on the November ballot.

The trustees met in executive session Wednesday to discuss an ongoing investigation into alleged “payroll irregularities” and issued a joint statement. The statement doesn’t outright mention the two tax levy questions but does address police funding.

“The investigation does not negate the need for a permanent police department, nor does it negate the need for funds to support our police department moving forward,” the statement reads. “At this time, we believe it would be a disservice to any of the parties involved to preemptively comment on any aspects of an open investigation. When details can be released without compromising the integrity of the investigation, we will provide further comment.”

In June the trustees approved asking voters two tax questions 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 statement notes at first all departments in the township were under investigation. The inquiry is now focused on the police department.

“In early July, anomalies were discovered in the use of the mobile application in use with the township’s timeclock system,” the statement reads. “While we are not rushing to judgment on whether there is any wrongdoing in this matter, it is the responsibility of the elected officials of Ross Twp. to ensure that our residents’ best interests and tax dollars are being appropriately overseen, therefore the administration consulted the county prosecutor for advice.”

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser told the Journal-News earlier this week he did refer the case to BCI. Steve Irwin with the Ohio Attorney General’s office said the investigation is “active and ongoing.”

If the levies fail, the trustees have said they’ll be forced to turn police protection over to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.

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 in June 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,” Ballauer said.

“We’re stuck from years ago when Gov. (John) Kasich took all of our (Local Government Fund) 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.”

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