BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — “Where are we going to come up with the money?”
That’s the question Swanton Township trustee Jeff Michael has about Lucas County Sheriff Mike Navarre’s plan to charge townships for police protection beginning in 2023.
Last week, the leaders of seven area townships – Springfield, Monclova, Swanton, Spencer, Provi-dence, Richfield and Harding – received letters from Navarre advising of his nearly $3 million plan to set up a police station at the airport and charge for patrols based on call volume.
“The question is, what’s fundamentally fair?” Navarre said. “You could talk to people in Waterville Township or Sylvania Township and others who are paying for their own police departments. They might ask, ‘Why are we paying when all these other townships are not?’”
Monclova Township has been paying the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) since 2012, after voters approved a 1.5-mill levy – which was increased to 1.75 mills in 2016. This year, Monclova is paying $767,362 as part of a five-year contract for the sheriff to provide 24/7 coverage with one deputy on duty at all times.
Monclova Township and Springfield Township began paying for service in response to a 2009 announcement by then-Sheriff James Telb that the townships receiving free services for the past 25 years would need to pay in order to alleviate a $5.1 million shortfall in the county budget. While these two townships began paying, the smaller ones did not, and the LCSO continued coverage at no charge.
“It used to be there were not a lot of calls for service. It was manageable for patrols to respond to those. Each year, those townships are growing in residences and business,” Navarre said.
As Navarre ran for sheriff, he began looking at what the LCSO is obligated to provide in services. In December 2020, he received an opinion from Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates.
Statutory duties include preserving the peace, providing security for courts, serving court documents and operating a jail – not patrolling the county as a police officer and ferreting out crime as a detective, Bates said. The county commissioners are only obligated to fund statutory, not discretionary duties, she added.
As he put together a plan, Navarre looked at the average number of calls for the seven townships, using data from 2015-2018. A four-year average shows 28,727 incidents per year. Spring-field Township incidents are 60.4 percent of the calls, followed by Monclova Town-ship, 20.7 percent; Swanton, 5.8 percent; Spencer, 5.4 percent; Providence, 3.4 percent; Richfield, 2.7 percent; and Harding, 1.1 percent.
Navarre outlined a plan for dividing the 129-square-mile area into four quadrants, with a deputy and a supervisor assigned to each quadrant. Two officers would respond to each incident. Three detectives, a sergeant and a commander would also handle crimes.
With free space available at the airport, Navarre wants to create a police station with a parking lot, offices, a training area, locker rooms, restrooms and a small fitness area so that not just the deputies on patrol but also the detectives doing follow-up investigations would be centrally located.
“This new plan would save us money, but we would also lose out on our dedicated deputy,” said Monclova Township administrator Harold Grim. “We already have people who have suggested that one deputy is not enough for Monclova Township – that we need more.”
Maumee representatives approached township officials last year with a proposal to provide coverage instead of the LCSO, but trustees agreed to wait until Navarre took office to hear his plan.
“I think we owe it to ourselves to look at every possibility,” Grim said.
Providence Township trustee Jeremiah Floyd said the trustees would discuss their options during a February 17 meeting. In Swanton Township, Michael said trustees may look to neighboring police departments – including Whitehouse, Waterville Township and Swanton – as well as the LCSO. Without a levy or another funding stream, the township may not choose to pursue a contract, Michael said.
“The county and municipalities have sales tax and income tax. We don’t have that option. We collect property tax. That’s our revenue source. To raise taxes on our residents is not something we’re interested in doing,” he said.
Without routine coverage, Michael said he’s concerned about a free-for-all on speeding and running stop signs. While the Ohio Highway Patrol will respond to crashes, they don’t provide routine patrols.
If residents don’t want to pay, what they’ll get from the LCSO is a response to crimes that might involve bodily injury, but not accidents or theft of property, Navarre said. A speed trailer could be placed on roads where speeding is an issue.
“It’s safe to say there would be a drastic reduction in service” for townships that don’t pay, Navarre said.
The feasibility of the plan depends on how many communities agree to join in. If both Monclova and Springfield back out, Navarre’s plan for a police station at the airport won’t work, but he will work with individual townships to negotiate for service.