At the request of some of the citizens in Wayne Township, Clermont County, I’ve recently attended several meetings of the Community Action Advisory Group (CAAG). The CAAG was created by the trustees to “gather facts about the police department to educate residents about how the department was formed and why it is important to the community.” The group is hoping to sway enough votes to eventually pass an operating levy for the police and fire departments.
The meetings were supposed to last from 7 p.m. to 8:30 pm on selected Thursdays but quite a few citizens found themselves standing in the parking lot until 11 pm further discussing the issues plaguing their community. The meeting rarely provided any information or resolution concerning the police department and more often the citizens leave with more questions and complaints than when they arrived. A majority of the time spent in the meetings citizens complained about the current situation and progress of the police department.
However, during the last meeting on June 7 the citizens came to a valuable conclusion: A majority of the citizens are against the police department because of the manner in which the trustees had introduced police protection into our community. The trustees started this police department against the will of the public and with no apparent plan of execution or concept of the strain it would put on the pocket books of the citizens. Several of the citizens who are most vocally against the operation of this department concede that if certain changes were made, they would fully support further advancement of the department. All of the citizens in attendance agree that there exists a need for additional law enforcement in the township whether it be a township police force or the Sheriff’s Office.
The citizens agreed that the following law enforcement options are available:
1 Continuance and growth of the Wayne Township Police Department
2 Contracting the Sheriff’s Office to provide additional uniformed patrol
3 Returning to the reactive patrol previously provided by the Sheriff’s Office
But there is an inherent problem with the first two options; and that is Wayne Township does not have enough money to accomplish either goal. Citizens of the township feel they are paying too much in taxes and due to the quality of the current service and personnel being offered refuse to pass a tax levy.
As stated, the CAAG was created simply to “educate”. But the statements made by Trustee Dennis Elchlinger in the past meeting show that the group seems to have taken on an additional responsibility: to decide the fate of the Wayne Township Police Department. The trustees have made statements that many mistakes have been made in the creation and execution of the police department. Now the citizens have been left with the task of repairing a problem created by their elected officials.
So the citizens began to set their complaints aside and focus on finding a resolution to the money problems. It was said and agreed upon that if a citizen has a complaint about specific operations within the police department that they would file a complaint with the Chief of Police, Joseph Mullins. If a citizen has a complaint with the way the trustees handled the creation and execution of the police department then the citizen should take that complaint to the trustees. There seemed to be a general consensus during the meeting that instead of filing complaints, the citizens would make their feeling about the situation known during the election in November.
Citizens began to focus on ideas to fix the money problems without creating higher taxes. Ideas were presented such as contracting with the Village of Newtonsville for police services permitting the village to reinstate their Mayor’s Court. This could potentially provide $30,000 each year in revenue strictly for the operation of the department. Additionally, creating and enforcing township resolutions as opposed to the Ohio Revised Code could generate another $30,000 per year. Unfortunately, either the Chief of Police has failed to create a budget for the department or the trustees have not released the information as requested so it is not known exactly how much money is required to operate the department. An estimate of $180,000 to 200,000 per year to fully staff the department and provide services 24/7 has been presented by one of the citizens. When the figures from the ideas presented above are factored, a tax levy could possibly cost a citizen less than $30 per year. This is much lower than the previously presented amount of $160 per year. Of course these amounts do not take account of grant money given by the state and federal government and private donations of money and equipment. Once these amounts are known the tax level would drop even further.
Citizens presented other ideas to dissolve the Wayne Township Police Department and instead contract with the Sheriff’s Office for various types of coverage. Regardless of the choice, it seemed apparent to me that either decision would probably result in the same amount of money needed to accomplish the goal. There would be numerous benefits in a contract with the Sheriff’s Office. For instance the resources, expertise and experience would far outweigh any that the Wayne Township Police Department could offer.
Only time will decide the fate of law enforcement in Wayne Township. Citizens should continue to focus on repairing the problems created by our trustees and look toward the next election to solve the problems of the trustees. Use the situation that has been created to grow our community and plan for future law enforcement needs whether through the Wayne Township Police Department or the Clermont County Sheriff’s Office.
The potential for a valuable community service exists, if handled properly by competent and informed authorities which do not seem to be in place now. However, I stand by my original comment which states the township trustees, as a result of financial difficulty and overwhelming public opinion, will disband the police department in August or September of this year in order to create a perception they are the side of the public. They will do this in order to recover some shred of their political career before the November elections.
Somehow I doubt the citizens will forget that quickly what has happened here, regardless of whether we manage to fix this mistake?