Interim chief urges Task Force
- Published: December 4, 2014
At a special budget session preceding Village Council’s Nov. 17 meeting, Council received a memo from Interim Police Chief Dave Hale in which he considered various cost-cutting measures for the police department, including whether to maintain membership in the Greene County ACE Task Force or to contract dispatch services with Xenia police.
Council did not discuss the proposals, but stated they would do so in early January. The 2015 Village budget does not reflect any changes in the police department, which currently provides one full-time officer to the Task Force, which mainly pursues drug-related crime.
In the memo, Chief Hale, who is one of two finalists in the search for a new police chief, recommended that the Village continue its Task Force involvement. However, figures indicate that the cost may outweigh the fiscal benefit.
Task Force membership costs the Village $10,500 yearly, and the Village also pays the wages and benefits of a full-time officer assigned to the Task Force. While the specific wage has varied due to the officer’s level of experience, an average current wage is about $50,000 for an officer, according to figures provided by Finance Director Melissa Vanzant, with benefits at 40 percent, or about $20,000, more than that. Altogether, the Village would spend about $80,500 per year, and for the past five years of Task Force membership, roughly $400,000.
In return, according to the memo, the police department has received in that time about $271,178 from Task Force Furtherance of Justice funds (confiscated money), along with several vehicles, according to the memo from Hale.
However, the Village should continue as a Task Force member if at all possible, Hale said in an interview this week, because, “The job of the police is not to generate income but to fight crime.”
The Task Force offers training opportunities for officers not found elsewhere, according to Hale’s memo. But the most important reason to stay involved is that the Task Force does important work, Hale believes.
“The Task Force concentrates on violations of law … such as stolen property rings, auto theft rings, as well as drug trafficking rings and the accompanying law violations that occur when users commit thefts, burglaries and robberies to fund their drug purchases,” the memo stated.
At the recent community policing forum, which Hale attended, many villagers expressed concerns about local police being involved in the Task Force. This week, Hale said he takes those concerns seriously, but, “My sworn oath is to uphold the law and that means to combat what’s illegal. Community feedback is important but it can’t override my oath and duty.”
In his memo, Hale said he was also asked to examine the cost of keeping Yellow Springs dispatch in-house compared to contracting with Xenia Police department.
According to Hale, the department would save about $106,653 yearly if it opts to contract dispatch to Xenia, although the savings would go down if the Village continues to employ someone at the police lobby window during the day. If the lobby window position continues, the savings to the Village would be about $60,000 a year, he wrote.
However, Hale acknowledged that there was considerable local protest when Council considered moving dispatch several years ago, and suggested a possible solution to be an independent Village tax levy to fund dispatch services, which costs the Village about $248,000 yearly in personnel costs.
Hale removed his previous request for a new cruiser from the 2015 budget.
Deficit spending in 2015
At the special meeting, Council reviewed the final numbers for the Village’s 2015 budget, with the help of Finance Director Vanzant. The final figures included some minor changes following Council’s discussion at a series of special budget meetings this fall. Council will vote on the first reading of the budget on Dec. 1 and take the final vote at its regular Dec. 15 meeting.
The Village general fund for 2015, which funds most Village services aside from utilities and is considered a barometer of municipal health, forecasts revenues of $2.76 million next year and expenses of $3.16 million, for a deficit of about $399,680. The general fund deficit has risen over the last several years, beginning with $59,280 in 2013, the first time in recent years the general fund included deficit spending, and rising to a projected 2014 deficit of $355,401.
There was good news in the Village budget regarding revenues, with last year’s Village income tax revenues coming in significantly higher than expected. The 2014 income tax revenues were expected to be $1.27 million, but are now projected to be about $1.5 million, about $250,000 over projections. Village income taxes are mainly collected from local businesses and reflect levels of employment. Overall, the Village is projecting 2014 revenues to be about $2.99 million, and in 2015 revenues are projected to be $2.76 million.
However, while the 2015 budget forecasts an increase in revenue over last year, expenses are rising even faster. In 2015 expenses of $3.16 million are anticipated, almost $400,000 over 2015 revenues. Increased general fund expenses are linked to several factors, including the upcoming hiring of a new assistant Village manager, and needed capital projects.
The utility, or enterprise funds, which are largely funded by utility fees, are also forecasting expenses greater than revenues, which Council members have tied to decreased usage in recent years, along with needed capital projects. The electric fund forecasts a 2015 deficit of $595,185 in 2015, although that fund will still have a balance of about $1.6 million. The water fund, which Council members describe as the fund of most concern, projects a deficit of $37,570 in 2015, out of an ending 2014 balance of $41,981. The Village sewer fund projects deficit spending of $73,449 in 2015, out of a 2014 ending balance of $150,736. And the Village solid waste fund projects no deficit, with revenue over expenses in 2015 of $9,380. Village Council at the meeting approved increases in the solid waste and sewer fund fees to beef up revenues for those funds, and Council members have said they will soon contract studies to determine needed fee increases in the water and electric funds.
How to fix sidewalks?
In other budget relief recommendations, Manager Bates proposed five possible options regarding sidewalk repair.
Currently, the Village pays for all sidewalk repair, a change of policy in recent years due to anticipated Safe Routes to Schools state funding. However, that funding is not expected to materialize, Bates wrote.
While the Village could continue with this strategy, which earmarks $50,000 yearly for sidewalk repair, the amount means the Village “will allow only a very small part of the very worst sidewalks to be repaired annually,” Bates wrote in her report.
Other options include holding the property owner responsible for repairs, which is standard practice in most communities, according to Bates; enacting a program of repair and assessment, in which the Village repairs sidewalks and assesses property owners the expense; or passing a property tax levy that provides funding for sidewalk repair.
Council will vote on the first reading of the 2015 Village budget at its regular Dec. 1 meeting.