The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

May 1, 2014

Ashtabula is seeking police levy

ASHTABULA — Voters in Ashtabula will see a five-year 2.5-mill police levy on the May 6 primary election ballot.

If passed, the levy would pay to hire five more officers and two additional dispatchers in the Ashtabula Police Department.

According to City Manager Jim Timonere, the levy will increase the number of available officers and dramatically reduce overtime costs.

“The 2.5-mill levy will generate about $500,000 which will be strictly dedicated to the police department for five years,” he said. “The bottom line to the levy is if the community wants more officers on the road, we hope they support Issue No. 4. If not, things will remain status quo.”

The cost to an average homeowner with a house valued at $75,000 will be about $66 a year, Finance Director Dana Pinkert has said.

Proponents formed a Citizens for Safety Committee and they are working hard to pass this levy, going door-to-door, placing signs in lawns and organizing informational meetings. Three such meetings were held two weeks ago at three different churches and attended by city officials,  council members, police officers and a handful of residents.

Timonere provided a PowerPoint presentation in which he walked the audience through the city budget, showing the city is “living within its means” and ended 2013 in the black with a balance of $367,680, he said.

Ashtabula businessman John Ginnard, who has been an outspoken opponent of the levy, questioned the police department’s overtime in 2013.

The uniformed division of the police department spent $396,625 on overtime, while the civilian division had $10,858, according to city records.

Police Chief Robert Stell defended the numbers, citing high crime and few officers to cover it.

Ginnard said he’s not buying it.

“The Ashtabula Police Department, with the excessive overtime, has plenty of money to hire all the officers needed that would be generated by new police levy,” Ginnard said. “The citizens are over-taxed and are not getting services already being paid for. Enough is enough, no more taxes.”

Timonere believes the extra officers on the road will make Ashtabula safer and at the same time decrease some of the overtime. He said he’s explained Ginnard’s theories are misleading and not feasible.

“We explained that quite a bit of the overtime costs cannot be avoided,” he said. “(Ginnard) has attempted to shift the focus from this, but we have remained steadfast in our message.”

City Solicitor Michael Franklin said the police department is staffed with a very well-trained and dedicated group of young professionals and he’s proud and pleased to work with them. The only problem is we don't have enough of them, he said.

“Less than 20 years ago we had 41 sworn officers on the force — now we have 27,” he said. “We need more than three patrol officers per shift to provide an acceptable level of protection to the citizens.”

The population of the city has dropped, but the demographics have also shifted, and the number of people involved in serious crimes remains pretty well constant, Franklin said.

“They just have fewer victims to prey upon,” Franklin said. “The police levy will give us the additional officers we need to put Ashtabula ‘off limits’ to the thugs and drug dealers who are responsible for so much of the recent violence and thefts in the community. This is the only way we can encourage law-abiding and productive people to stay here, let alone return here.”

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