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Sheriff’s Office talks policing contract, sales tax with Coventry

8/28/2014 - South Side Leader
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By Emily Chesnic

COVENTRY — Coventry residents recently were informed on where the Summit County Sheriff’s Office stands on several ongoing issues having a direct impact on the community.

A town hall meeting was held Aug. 20 to present information concerning an increase in the cost of the township’s policing contract with the Sheriff’s Office and a countywide sales tax increase initiative that, in part, would help maintain the Summit County Jail and replace the county’s 800 megahertz emergency radio system to upgrade and consolidate the county’s 9-1-1 dispatch system. The sales tax increase proposal is on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot.

Sheriff Steve Barry provided the information so Coventry citizens could better understand the position of his office.

Coventry currently contracts with the Sheriff’s Office to have one deputy on duty in the township 24 hours a day seven days a week.

Barry said the contract covers salary, benefits, dispatch services, vehicles, radios, vehicle maintenance, vehicle fuel and other miscellaneous expenses.

By contracting with the Sheriff’s Office, Coventry has been given access to additional services and resources at no additional expense to the township, he said.

These include, but are not limited to, police commanders and detectives; administrative support; special weapons and tactics team (SWAT); major crash investigation; crime scene investigation; narcotics investigation; operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI) task force; meth lab cleanup; Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.); the bomb squad; house checks; and senior citizen visits, Barry said.

“Though Coventry Township will still receive these resources, the Sheriff’s Office must now charge for the true cost of Coventry’s policing coverage plan,” he said.

Since 2008, the Sheriff’s Office has been making reductions to cut expenses being paid out of the county’s General Fund, he said.

According to Barry, about $100 million has been cut from the county’s General Fund since 2008.

“This reduction has caused the Sheriff’s Office to not only examine the true cost of services provided to Coventry Township, but also all services provided by the Sheriff’s Office,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Office has been operating with 50 less employees since 2008, Barry said.

However, the office, in 2008, successfully implemented a plan to cut costs while increasing efficiency, despite the loss of manpower, he said.

Barry said the increase in Coventry’s policing contract with the Sheriff’s Office is separate from the sales tax matter.

A proposed 0.25-percent increase in the county sales and use tax was approved by Summit County Council to appear on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot.

He said the sale tax increase would aid in staffing the county’s corrections division, courthouse and civil bureau. He said the money also would greatly improve 9-1-1 dispatch and communications in the county.

According to Barry, the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) only mandates the Sheriff’s Office properly oversee these areas.

“The ORC and the Supreme Court of Ohio [don’t] require the sheriff to provide policing services to a community that doesn’t have policing coverage or other service options,” he explained. “It does, however, allow the sheriff to enter into contracts with a community to provide policing services.”

Recently, the Sheriff’s Office submitted a new three-year contract to the Coventry Board of Trustees.

The Sheriff’s Office will be increasing the rate it charges the township for the next three-year contract by 21 percent for 2015, 2 percent for 2016 and 2 percent for 2017, Trustee David Calderone has explained. The cost for next year will be $737,000, Calderone has said, and $753,000 in 2016 and $768,000 in 2017.

He has said the township’s current police levy is being collected through 2017, so it is difficult for Coventry to afford the new contract.

The unexpected increase of 21 percent for the first year of the new contract would result in a budget shortage of $355,000, Calderone added.

Due to “inadequate notice,” the board is using money from the General Fund to cover the “obligation,” but at the expense of other township needs, including roads, he said.

“Signing contracts with the sheriff that aren’t synchronized with the levies has been very damaging to our community,” Calderone explained.

In 2009, the sheriff “suddenly” put in place a 20 percent increase for dispatching, he said.

“Coventry did not have increased cost calculated into our five-year levy, so we had to reduce our patrol staffing to one deputy from two. We have never recovered from this,” Calderone said.

He said the board agrees it would be “irresponsible” for the trustees to sign a long-term contract with the Sheriff’s Office without having the money to pay for it.

“We agreed that the span of our policing contracts must line up with the span of our levies so that we avoid these financial crises,” Calderone said.

He believes county officials fail to consider how townships are funded.

“For law enforcement, we have a five-year levy that does not expire until 2017, so telling the trustees in January of this year is not giving us adequate advance notice,” Calderone explained. “Any increase will require an increased levy. Additional levies are not something the trustees take lightly. We must also consider the levies of other essential township services.”

In addition to the cost of the proposed policing contract, the board has to consider the service the Sheriff’s Office provides, which is equally important, Calderone said.

According to Calderone, the “high turnover” that Calderone has seen concerning the supervisors and deputies that work in the township “compromises service.”

He said Coventry has had seven patrol commanders in the past 15 years.

Furthermore, Calderone said the board agrees Coventry needs more than one deputy on duty for the safety of the township.

“Coventry doesn’t have adequate police protection,” he said. “Everyone agrees, even the sheriff, with this.”

Calderone said Coventry does pay less for law enforcement than surrounding communities do, but this is due to having very little police presence in the community.

“The sheriff’s costs per officer are actually higher than most of our neighboring communities,” he said.

The board agrees now is a good time to consider other policing options, Calderone added.

“The trustees are committed to finding the best option that includes competitive pricing and extended longevity of law enforcement officers,” he said. “This will take some time, but we must do it for our best interest.”

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