In politics as in life, timing is everything. So is strategy and cost for a single issue special election for the Deerfield Township police levy in August.
Voters in one of Warren County’s largest townships will be asked to decide whether to raise property taxes and keep current levels of police staffing at 25 or cut the current number of deputies to 15.
Due to changes in funding by the Warren County Commissioners, the county is no longer funding six of the deputies. The township has supplemented using money from its general fund and says even with streamlining, they can no longer afford it without additional revenue.
However, “Costs add up for special elections.” Additional costs to taxpayers.
“In addition to the traditionally low turnout, special elections cost money. The entity requesting the special election, either the political subdivision or the school district, must cover the cost. The Ohio Secretary of State estimates a special election costs $1,026 per precinct.”
On March 5, 2013, Deerfield Township Trustees unanimously passed Resolution 2013-11 to place a 4- mill police levy on the ballot for the August 6 Special Election – the 1.5 mill increase would replace the previous 2.5 mills in effect since 2004. (Video 1:09) Township officials obtained a certificate of estimated property tax from the Warren County Auditor’s Office prior to the March 5 meeting.
The issue of additional revenue for the sheriff’s department has been on the radar screen and “discussed at length” since November 2011.
Shouldn’t a vital issue of public safety and taxation be put before the greatest number of voters in November?
“The levy is estimated to bring in $3,957,380 million, enough to pay for staffing 26 Warren County Sheriff’s deputies.” (Source) Per Trustee President Chris Romano, the 4-mill levy will cost approximately $170 per $100,000 in property value.
Two trustees and a half mill parks levy will be on the November ballot. If passed, the parks levy will raise an estimated $500K, costing about $30 per $100,000 according to Romano.
In November 2004 Deerfield voters passed a continuing 2.5 mill tax levy for police services. The levy passed with 60.19% or 8,913 voters voting to approve the measure.
A 2.5-mill levy was approved in 1997 and generated about $1.4 million per year for the Deerfield post of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. In 2004, 23 officers served the Deerfield Township community.
The township contracts with the Warren County Sheriff’s office, which also provides ancillary services such as dispatching, administration and union negotiations.
Employees of the township, meeting participants, scheduled speakers, and media attended the March and April regular meetings.
Zip, zero, nada from the community. A vacuum of citizen interest and accountability.
By April 2, Romano said the levy had already been filed with the Warren County Board of Elections – well in advance of the May 8 90-day filing deadline.
Warren County Sheriff Larry Sims addressed trustees about crime in the township at the April 2 meeting, responding to questions relating to costs, stats, and staffing. (Video 9:18) Trustees posed questions pertaining to key levy talking points.
Township growth of 40-50%, higher volume of police calls, and rising costs necessitate the levy according to township officials.
“This is by far the busiest, the busiest post or part of the sheriff’s office. There’s no question about it,” said Sheriff Sims. (37:45)
Romano, who advocates government transparency and fiscal responsibility, demonstrated exceptional willingness to engage and educate constituents, helpfully taking time to answer questions, provide historical context, and information.
When asked, Romano said the policy levy is the only issue on the August ballot.
With approximately 24 precincts in Deerfield Township, Romano estimated costs somewhere around $30,000 for the August special election.
“Special elections are notorious for their low turnouts and unpredictable results,” says the Buckeye Institute.
Special elections in Ohio commonly see a voter turnout below 25% according to The Ohio Association of Election Officials. “This means that an absurdly small portion of the local electorate often decides tax levies.”
Most special elections in August 2012 decided issues involving taxation –specifically tax increases.
Generally, local governments pay the costs of special elections themselves. Special elections held in conjunction with a primary or general, which are reimbursed by the state, reduce election costs to local government.
Ohio has the sixth largest local tax burden in the U.S. During an economic downturn rife with stories of government waste, many voters have reached a tipping point in personal income and taxation – and levy fatigue.
Citizens in Deerfield respect and support the work of the Deerfield Township Sheriff’s office that serves and protects the community. Most will agree that public safety is a necessary function of government.
This is not a commentary of the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the Sheriff’s post in Deerfield or the need for additional revenue.
The issue at hand is government transparency, fiscal responsibility, and accountability.
Trustees should elucidate the timing, costs, and strategy for placing such an important issue on the August ballot – when most voters are not paying attention.
Local government should not use special elections as a tactical tool or opportunity to pass levies while those footing the bill are mostly “checked out” of politics.
Important issues involving law enforcement service levels, public safety, and taxation should be in the limelight of public awareness – in the November general election.
Deerfield Township Trustees levy strategy appears to be a political tactic costing taxpayers more money, but it could compromise trustees’ reputation for fiscal responsibility and transparency, as well as voter education and participation.
August voter interest and turnout will not accurately reflect the vote of the community. Voters should be given time and information to vote their interests and make informed choices.
In an effort to increase transparency, trustee meetings can now be viewed online at the Deerfield Township website.
Deerfield Township Trustees meet first and third Tuesdays at 5:30 pm.
Transparency occurs with citizen participation – it’s all about showing up.
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