NORTHFIELD CENTER — To be with the sheriff or not be with the sheriff, that is the question for the township to decide.
Trustees are scheduled to meet during a Monday, Aug. 19 work session at the Town Hall to discuss a township safety committee report, which includes a recommendation that the trustees consider other options to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office continuing policing of the township under a contract.
Proposed alternatives could be a contract with Northfield Village in the nearer future, and eventually forming a police district with Sagamore Hills or some other community further down the road.
"I can only tell you," said Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry on Monday, "that we’re providing the best possible service we can, the best possible professional service we can. We feel we’re doing a very good job up there for the safety of the citizens. What they want to explore is up to them."
The work session is at 6 p.m. and is open to the public, but comments from the public will not be taken during the meeting.
In a newsletter emailed to township residents Aug. 6, Trustee Paul Buescher said he has long been opposed to ending policing by the sheriff’s office.
"Most of you know where I stand with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and the great services that they have provided over the years," wrote Buescher. "Many of you will recall that back in 2005, the issue of ending the Sheriff’s services was one of the major contributing issues that compelled me to run for Trustee! Support for the Sheriff has been a popular rallying cry from most of you…"
Trustee Rich Reville said Friday that the trustees will sit down with safety committee members at the work session, but no decision can be made at that time. He said he has not come to any conclusions about the recommendations.
"The report only has a little bit of information at this time," he said. "There’s still much more work to be done."
Reville also said that the township’s current three-year contract with the sheriff’s office does not expire until the the beginning of 2021.
"We have plenty of time to decide what we’re going to do," he said.
According to the report, the impetus for the recommendation is concerns over cost.
Trustees approved the current $2.62-million contract in September 2017 — an 11 percent increase over the previous $2.36 million, three-year contract, and the committee said costs are expected to continue rising.
The township pays for policing out of revenue generated by three police levies which raise just short of $850,000 annually.
Thanks to carryover balances at the end of 2018, the township had $970,000 to pay the sheriff the $872,000 owed this year, but with costs projected to increase over the next few years, the carryover is projected to drop to less than $50,000 next year and turn into a nearly $30,000 deficit in 2021 and more than $270,000 in 2023. Buescher said these numbers were developed by the committee and "based on current revenue and expenditures."
This would require the township to supplement policing costs from other sources, such as from the general fund, money generated from the joint economic development district the township has with Macedonia, which Buescher said is about $135,000 annually, or asking voters to approve additional levy funding.
The report states that the committee was told by representatives from the sheriff’s office at a meeting last May that the sheriff’s office could not cut costs to come within $850,000 because it is running a deficit already.
"We’re doing everything we can for the best possible price," said Barry, adding he believes the sheriff’s costs are "the second lowest per capita for police protection" in Summit County.
Barry also said that the township’s contract with the sheriff’s office, which has about 430 employees, includes services that would be difficult to get from other agencies.
"We have several specialized units that come with that contract," he said. "Bomb squad, SWAT team etc. I don’t know if others can offer all the resources we have. We’re proud to do it and we’d like to stay there."
At a July meeting with Northfield Village officials, however, it was determined that the village police department could offer comparable services within the township’s budget, the report says. Mayor Jesse Nehez did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The committee also approached Boston Heights officials in July, says the report, and the committee is waiting to see if the village makes a proposal.
Boston Heights Mayor Bill Goncy said Monday, "At this point we are not offering them any kind of contract."
"Yes, we were asked by the committee to look into offering them a bid," said Goncy. "We told them we we were doing some reorganization in the [police department] and we wouldn’t be giving them a pricing immediately, but we would, our [safety] committee would, be looking into that. So at this point, we’re not anywhere near ready to do that."
At a June meeting in Sagamore Hills, the report says, Sagamore Hills officials were reluctant to enter into a contract with Northfield Center because costs would only be estimates and therefore difficult to budget for, but a police district may be a viable alternative because it would allow greater budgeting control, more flexible staffing and both townships would own the equipment.
Sagamore Hills Trustee David DePasquale, who attended the June meeting, said the topic of a police district came up when Police Chief David Hayes talked about a presentation he gave about districting at a conference in Columbus two or three years ago, but no proposals have been made to form such a district between the townships.
"It came up as a discussion of what is out there for [Northfield Center] and their situation having to contract with the sheriff’s office or what have you," said DePasquale. "It wasn’t like, let’s jump into something and form a police district. It wasn’t that by any means."
In his newsletter, Buescher noted that the report incorrectly states the township is currently a part of a fire and EMS district when what it actually has is a contract with Macedonia for the city to provide fire and EMS service, much like Northfield Center provided fire and EMS coverage for many years to Sagamore Hills under a contract.
Northfield Center and Sagamore Hills did form a fire and EMS district in 2011, but the district was dissolved in 2016 when Sagamore Hills opted to enter into its own contract with Macedonia and Northfield Center then did the same because of the expense of adequately funding a fire department on its own.
The report says the committee met with Macedonia officials in May, but it was determined that the city could not offer comparable police coverage with what the township currently receives from the sheriff’s office while staying within the township’s budget.
Buescher, in his newsletter, argues that for what it pays the sheriff’s office, the township gets more than just the single deputy patrolling at all times plus a second deputy for 40 hours a week and that these extra services could not be offered by Sagamore Hills and Northfield Center.
"With all due respect to both communities and the Committee, I cannot see how either community and even combining both could ‘provide more services than the Sheriff provides at a cost (if a Police District is formed) within NCT budget,’" wrote Buescher.
"There is also the additional costs covering both our fire and police dispatching costs and jail costs," he continued. "Both Sagamore Hills and Northfield Village are charged for dispatching [under contracts with Macedonia], which would obviously be passed onto us along with the costs to jail all offenders that are arrested [also provided to Sagamore Hills and the village under a contract with Macedonia]. Yes, both fire and police dispatching are provided by the Sheriff as well as all jailing costs!"
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.