ASHTABULA — While contracting with the Sheriff’s Department for guaranteed police protection is largely a foreign concept to Ashtabula County, the arrangement has been embraced by townships in other Ohio counties.

Section 505.43 of the Ohio Revised Code allows townships, even those without home rule, to contract with a sheriff’s department for additional protection beyond the basic mandate of “keeping the peace.” The cost can be paid from the general fund or a levy passed by voters.

“It’s worked out real well for us,” says Jerry Hirt, veteran trustee of Bethel Township, Miami County (western Ohio). “We have had no complaints from our public and we’ve been very satisfied with our service.”

Bethel began contracting with the Miami County Sheriff’s Department about the time Hirt became a trustee 28 years ago. He said the arrangement started out with eight hours of coverage, five days a week, and has grown to be nearly 24/7.

The township’s voters originally approved a 1.5-mill renewal levy to pay for the service. Hirt said voters recently approved a permanent levy on a smaller millage.

In neighboring Montgomery County, Harrison and Washington townships contract with the sheriff for protection through a police district, Hirt said.

Millcreek and Jerome Townships contract with the Union County (central Ohio) Sheriff’s Department to provide public safety officers, which are members of the sheriff’s patrol division. The law enforcement officers also have firefighter and emergency medical technician cross training.

“We love it,” says Bill Lynch, a Millcreek township trustee. “We’re truly pleased with the program.”

Millcreek is a rural township while its neighboring township, Jerome, is bigger with more development. Lynch says Jerome and Millcreek contract with the sheriff to provide five public safety officers dedicated to their townships. The cost is split between the two townships based upon the number of runs in each subdivision.

Additionally, Jerome Township provides fire service to Millcreek under a contract.

The policing arrangement was originally paid for with federal grants; in 2007, residents approved a five-year levy to maintain the program.

In Medina County, six townships contract with the sheriff’s department to provide a certain number of hours of coverage each month. Chief Deputy Kenneth Baca says this arrangement dates back to 1966 and provides part-time employment for the department’s deputies who pick up extra hours doing the patrol work.

On a grander scale, Lafayette Township replaced its entire police department with a community policing contract with the Medina County Sheriff’s Department.

Lynda Bowers, Lafayette Township trustee, said the arrangement has been in place since August 2006. A levy that generates $310,000 annually pays for the coverage, which provides dedicated protection at least two shifts per day. She calls it the “pearl of regionalism.”

“We get twice the service for half the cost,” she says of the benefit of contracting for service versus having a dedicated department. Bowers says contracting saves the township the cost of administration, training and insurance that the sheriff’s department normally pays as part of its operation.

Lafayette’s contract with the sheriff’s department allows trustees to select from a pool of deputies who will serve their community.

“We want our officers to be like Andy in Mayberry,” she says.

Bowers says the sheriff and his or her willingness to tailor the agreement to the community’s needs is a key to making contracting work. “Our sheriff truly allows us to have our own department,” she says.

The other key is gaining confidence of the voters. Bowers says township voters rejected the switch to the less-costly plan of contracting the first time it was presented to them. She said it was a matter of trustees failing to communicate the facts.

“We didn’t do a good job of making sure the residents knew what we knew,” says Bowers, who frequently speaks to township trustees mulling the move.

In Jerusalem Township, Lucas County (northwest Ohio), voters trounced trustees’ attempt to lock in 24/7 sheriff’s department protection. Joe Kiss, chairman of the Jerusalem Township Board of Trustees, said the 3.5-mill levy lost by a 2-1 margin.

The question came before voters after the Lucas County Board of Commissioners last summer notified the nine unincorporated areas that they would be charged for sheriff’s patrols.

“All of a sudden, they wanted us to pay $350,000 at the drop of a hat,” Kiss says.

The same effort to get voters to pay for sheriff’s department services failed in Springfield Township, Lucas County, last fall.

Kiss says that, for the time being, the sheriff is still providing a deputy in the township during every shift, but he doesn’t know how much longer that will continue. A steering committee is looking at options.

In Ashtabula County, the situation is even more serious, where 27 townships are being covered by just one patrol car per shift. The arrangement was put in place in response to a 20-percent cut to the sheriff’s 2010 appropriations.

Ashtabula Township trustees have placed a 1-mill levy on the May ballot to let voters decide if they want to pay for guaranteed police protection in their township.

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