By SHELLEY TERRY
Ashtabula City voters are being asked to vote Yes on Issue 6, passing an additional 2.5-mill tax that will generate about $530,000 a year for five years specifically for the Ashtabula Police Department.
The additional money will be used to provide and maintain vehicles, communications, other equipment, buildings, and sites for buildings used directly in the operation of the police department, or the payment of salaries permanent or part-time police, according to the language on the ballot.
“It will give the citizens a chance to boost police protection,” said Ward 1 Councilman Richard Balog, a retired fire chief and chairman of the council’s safety forces committee.
City Solicitor Michael Franklin said the police department has done a very good job of providing service at lower and lower cost, but it is reaching the breaking point.
“A department that had 41 sworn officers 20 years ago is now getting by with less than 30,” he said. “Some shifts we only have three police officers patrolling the whole city, and a domestic complaint or a bar fight with multiple persons involved can tie up all of them for up to an hour at a time, leaving the city with virtually no protection for that time period.”
The city also has fewer detectives to do follow-up investigations on serious or complex crimes, meaning some of those will go unsolved, he said.
“At a guess, the thug drug dealers who come here from Youngstown and Cleveland to sell their filth outnumber our officers by about three to one,” Franklin said. “We need to even the odds a bit.”
The State of Ohio balanced its budget, put together a multi-million dollar ‘rainy day’ fund and gave everyone an income tax cut by taking away virtually all financial support of local governments.
“That means hundreds of thousands of dollars of Ashtabula taxpayer money that used to come back to us for things like police protection are now being kept in Columbus,” he said. “That is why the City Council is reluctantly asking the citizens to accept a small additional tax on their property values to make up a portion of what Columbus has taken away.”
City Manager Jim Timonere recommended the police levy, knowing the average homes (in the city) are valued at about $50,000. That means the average homeowner will pay an additional $44 a year for increased police protection.
Staffing cuts have reduced the department to three officers on the streets during a shift, and that is not enough, Police Chief Robert Stell said.
Timonere said the department plans to add two dispatchers and five officers with the additional money. Volunteers are walking door-to-door talking to residents about the police department’s need for more officers on the streets, he said.
Crime is rising and drugs, especially heroin, are rampant.
“We can promise the voters that those dollars will be spent here, and that they will see and experience the benefit of this tax,” Franklin said. “It is an investment in the future of Ashtabula.”
City Council President J.P. Ducro IV said, “Of all the things we need in this city, our security is in the most direst of needs.”