Portage moves toward dissolving police department
Written by BY DEBBIE ROGERS/Sentinel Staff Writer
Tuesday, 15 September 2009 22:21
PORTAGE — Village council and the mayor have taken the first step toward dissolving the police department as the village tries to recover from a state fiscal emergency.
They also asked representatives from the state auditor to plan for a 1 percent income tax on the May 2010 ballot.
The decisions were made at a special workshop meeting Tuesday. Discussions will continue with a council meeting Monday and another special meeting Sept. 28.
Village officials are dealing with a $196,411 deficit by the end of the year. If spending continues and revenues don’t change, the deficit is expected to balloon to $448,796 by 2013.
Even with phasing out the police department by Dec. 31 and passing a new tax, “the village is going to have to run very, very, extremely lean for a very long time,” said Belinda Miller, chief project manager of the local government services division with the Ohio auditor.
The five-year plan, which has to be submitted to a financial planning and supervision commission Oct. 5, must demonstrate recovery, Miller said.
“The alternative you would have to look at is whether the village can continue to function as a village,” she said.
With the passage of a 1 percent income tax in May, which is the next general election it could be voted on, and the police cuts, Portage could have a $39,000 positive balance by the end of 2013, Miller said.
Council and Mayor Mark Wolford weren’t thrilled with the plan, but said they needed to do it for the survival of Portage. Council implemented a 1 percent income tax in January without a vote, which is allowed through Ohio Revised Code. It generates $60,000 annually.
“Let the taxpayer decide. If they want the village to survive, they’ll vote for it,” said Councilman Doug Maas.
“I want to have the guys (police) here too and I’d like to have Dish TV in my house but I can’t afford it,” said Councilwoman Marcia Wolford.
“It’s a good start. Start with the police department, income tax,” said Councilman Floyd Wilson. “There’s a whole bunch of stuff we have to do or we’ll be on our rear.”
Residents weren’t happy either.
“If you totally eliminate the police department, you will not pass any levy in this town,” said Harold Yoder.
Mike Stacklin said they hadn’t looked hard enough for cuts, suggesting the town hall be sold. They could hold meetings in his garage, he said.
However, Ron Amos said, “Hard times mean hard decisions.”
Wolford also presented a three-page list of $300,000 in cuts. They include eliminating Village Administrator Ron Sharp and setting up a board of public affairs.
Councilwoman Tamara Sharp, who is his wife, said she didn’t think that would be a savings. She said his wage works out to about $2.10 an hour, plus they pay for his gas and cell phone.
Wolford’s other cuts include eliminating the sewer clerk’s position, which is $3,600, and asking all elected officials to donate half of their salaries back to the village, an $11,000 savings.
The mayor initially proposed putting a 3-mill levy on the ballot to support police operations. Police hours and wages would be cut, but the village would still be served 60 hours a week in his plan.
After running the numbers, Miller said Portage would be in a $171,000 deficit by the end of 2013 with this plan.
“Even with the reductions you’re proposing, the deficit in the general fund is still increasing over the five-year period,” she said. “It’s not doing anything for its (the general fund) recovery ... and that’s not acceptable.”
Wolford has been a strong proponent of keeping the police department. After the meeting, he said he realized it just isn’t possible to fund it right now.
“I don’t know if it’s a turn-around or a realization of the facts,” Wolford said. “I can’t do it. I’ve done everything I can do. It’s just not enough.”
The mayor said if annexation prospects north of the village go through, maybe an income tax wouldn’t be needed and the police department could be reinstated.
The village was put in fiscal emergency in April. Another blow was dealt earlier this month, when council agreed to give up its lone traffic signal and raise speed limits, as recommended by the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 September 2009 08:37