Perry residents again question police hours cut

PERRY TWP. — Township trustees and the fiscal officer fielded questions again about the concerns of a few residents regarding police protection and a cut in hours for part-time officers, with Trustee Chair Cliff Mix stressing they still have 24/7 police coverage.

“You’ll never be without police protection,” he said.

Residents Linda Dickey and Maria Harrold lobbed questions at the trustees about the hours cut, why they haven’t put an officer on the Columbiana County Drug Task Force yet, how officers are scheduled and why the police department has less money than the other two departments, road and fire.

Mix tried to explain that the cuts have only been in effect for two weeks and they have to get the hours set up and get the police department on a level basis before they can move the full-time officer to the DTF on a part-time basis. Once they make the move, the officer will remain full-time but work part-time for the DTF and part-time for the township.

“As soon as we are financially responsible, we’re going to send an officer to the DTF,” he said, adding they need more than two weeks of data before deciding. “It might be six months, might be two months, might be three months.”

Dickey said the word is getting out about the cut in hours and now with the news about Lordstown and more people who are going to be out of work, she’s worried about the criminals knowing about what’s happening in the township.

Mix said 20 hours have been cut from the schedule and Harrold wanted to know how the officers are scheduled. Mix referred her to Chief Mike Emigh for that question, saying she can contact him and see if he’ll talk to her about the schedule.

“We do not micromanage his scheduling,” Mix said.

“I don’t want you ladies to miss the point. We’re trying to do something good here,” Trustee Jim Armeni said.

He explained that they’re trying to find a way to provide a service that they see a need for in the township through the DTF while also continuing to provide police services. He said it’s a budget issue for them to deal with, noting the “money dictates the service.”

Dickey said their concern is protection and their goal is to get back to the way it was, back to normal. She said once they look at the financial records provided to them by the fiscal officer, maybe they’ll have a better idea of the money situation. The idea of a new police levy was brought up again, but Armeni said “every time you get a bump in the road, you can’t run to the taxpayers.”

Mix said they don’t understand how the budgets run. Each department has their own and the trustees have the general fund. The fire department and road department both have enough money, but the police department “runs on a thin skin.” The police department runs 24/7 with professionally-trained paid police officers while the fire department runs on trained volunteers who are paid nothing per call, nothing period.

One of the two women commented that the trustees can tell them anything. They want to know for sure about the budget. They want proof.

Armeni said he took exception to that, pointing out that the trustees and fiscal officer have about 75 years of public service between them.

Fiscal Officer Susan Johnston explained that most of the money comes from levies that are very specific in their uses. Money from the road department can’t be taken for the police. The general fund can be used everywhere, but as it decreases, she said they can’t keep supplementing the police department. The police department relies on two 1.5-mill levies and one 1-mill levy, all for five years, that can be used toward personnel. There’s also a 1.5-mill safety forces levy split evenly between the fire and police departments for equipment and communications. The levy can’t be used for personnel costs.

“We want to be shown where the money is going and why they have less money than other departments,” Dickey said.

Johnston suggested they make an appointment to come to her office so she can explain the finances in detail.

“We’re not here to criticize, we need to understand what you’re talking about,” Harrold said.

Resident Butch Donnalley questioned whether the split could be changed on the safety forces grant to give more to the police department, but Johnston said that doesn’t help the problem because it can’t be used for personnel. Another resident, who’s a veteran, said his house has been broken into numerous times and he’s a nervous wreck. He was told to contact the police department.

In another police matter, the trustees agreed to pay $3,385 per year to Lexipol for police department policies and procedures, with a rebate of $1,000 coming back to the township. The company keeps up with changes in law and provides daily online training scenarios for officers to complete. If there’s a problem, the company defends the department. Salem uses the program and Johnston said Salem Chief J.T. Panezott spoke positively about Lexipol. She said the cost will come out of the general fund since there isn’t enough in the police fund to cover it.

The trustees will hold a work session at 3 p.m. Dec. 10 at Johnston’s office on North Ellsworth Avenue to hash out the 2019 budget for the township. The next regular session for the trustees will be 6:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at the administration building on North Ellsworth Avenue when the appropriations for next year will be approved.