Thursday, August 05, 1999

Clearcreek looks at police cuts

Levy fails for 2nd time in a year

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CLEARCREEK TOWNSHIP — Services could be cut and police officers may lose their jobs as officials here grapple with a second defeat of the township's police levy in nine months.

        “The answer (voters) are giving us is perfectly clear. We have to find a way to live within the budget — whether it's a contract with the sheriff's office, dealing with services or some other option I don't yet understand,” Township Administrator Dennis Pickett said Wednesday.

        “Anything's in play. Any reasonable option is going to be considered. We will discuss the merits and the trustees ultimately will make the decision,” Mr. Pickett said.

        In unofficial results, the 6-mill levy took a second blow Tuesday when 810 residents voted against the tax, compared to 746 votes in favor of the measure that would have provided $1.2 million for operations. The levy needed 55 percent of the vote to pass.

        The same measure, as well as an additional 1.8-mill levy that would have collected $300,000 more in taxes for the department, were defeated in November by a wider margin.

        Township officials said earlier that failure could mean layoffs and other cutbacks or disbanding the po lice force in favor of a contract with the Warren County Sheriff's Office.

        Those options haven't changed, Mr. Pickett said.

        The topic is likely to be discussed at today's trustee meeting, but Mr. Pickett said he doubts any decisions will be made.

        The defeat leaves the police department with an annual operating budget of $750,000, and a lot of decisions to make, he said.

        Among them:

        • Eliminating services such as sending officers to take accident reports on private property, helping motorists who are locked out of their cars or monitoring citizens' homes when they are out of town.

        • Disbanding the department and contracting with the Warren County Sheriff's Office for police services. The arrangement would cost the township about $57,000 per deputy for salaries and benefits. It would not include costs for buildings and equipment, such as cruisers.

        • Laying off officers on the staff of eight full-time and seven part-time officers who serve the community of 9,500 residents.

        • Putting the levy on the ballot a third time.

With two existing vacancies, one full-time officer on sick leave and another set to leave for another job on Aug. 11, the department already is working with a skeleton staff, acting Chief Tony Scott said.

        Two other officers, hired in the past few years with federal grant money, are searching for employment elsewhere because their township jobs are in jeopardy, Mr. Pickett said.

        Meanwhile, acting Chief Scott is filling in on patrols and encouraging the department's part-time officers to work full shifts when they can.

        “I don't know where the staff will go down to at this time, but I know it definitely will be decreased,” said acting Chief Scott, a newly promoted sergeant replacing former Chief Walt McAlpin, who resigned in June.

        The township postponed a search for a new chief until the election and now has put it on hold altogether, Mr. Pickett said.

        Acting Chief Scott said he doesn't think the department can get by on $750,000 a year. He said equipment costs alone are escalating. Four cruisers are past their prime, costing $40,000 in repairs this year, and may require replacement next year.

        That won't happen under the current budget, and the township will be left with three working cruisers, just enough to put a shift of officers on the road but with no room for breakdowns or extra patrols, he said.

        Despite the levy defeat, acting Chief Scott said officer morale is better than might be expected.

        “The officers are keeping a positive attitude,” he said. “We're not going to give up.”


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