GALLIPOLIS — Gallipolis city officials, residents, business owners and police officers joined together Tuesday evening in their second meeting to discuss ongoing budget problems and to address questions from the public as the city attempts to pass a 1 percent tax income increase to be used to fund Gallipolis Police Department needs.
Area engineer and business owner Randy Breech asked officials what might happen should the levy fail to pass in the upcoming November election. City Auditor and Clerk Annette Landers said she was not entirely sure but she was confident the municipal pool would be closed as long as the city continued with budget woes and had strong feelings the city would lose police officers.
“I don’t know where else we go,” said Landers. “We’ve already paired (individuals into multiple job roles). We’ve reassigned people into other departments as much as we can possibly do.”
City Manager Gene Greene said the city would be lucky to keep the officers it has, if the levy fails. He detailed how he was concerned that crimes within the city were at an all-time high and the number of police in town were at an all-time low.
“No matter how good they are, you might only be able to afford part-time people and you can’t count on a part-time police officer because he’s dedicated to his full-time job,” Greene said.
Both Greene and Landers took pay cuts earlier in the year in an attempt to keep officers on.
Gallipolis Police Chief Jeff Boyer said he felt the police force would become “report takers” instead of being able to solve crimes because of a lack of resources and manpower to take on crime. He ideally would like to be able to have 15 officers.
This November, city officials placed a 1 percent income tax increase which would be used to further fund police efforts in town. The city currently has a 1 percent income tax, so if the levy were approved, it would push the tax up to 2 percent. Should the levy pass, the money it collects by law would be placed in a separate fund which only GPD would draw from for its training purposes, wages and equipment costs.
Those who are on social security or income assistance are not effected by the tax cost as they are not receiving regular paychecks. Only those who live in town can vote on the issue as well.
Currently, the city is manned by 10 officers, that including the chief and the detective. Boyer noted concerns with how much it costs to house inmates after an arrest is made, aging vehicles, time spent in taking reports and transporting prisoners to jails outside of the county as the county’s cells are often full.
As previously reported by the Tribune and checked with city records, the city’s budget originally carried around $3.97 million. Money available numbered around $3.93 million in 2012 and $3.55 million in 2013. City officials say money available for the 2016 year would be around $2.95 million with around $1.55 million collected from working individuals in income tax. The city had collected around $1.59 million in income tax in 2011.
City tax officer Ron Lynch has told the Tribune in previous meetings he estimates the city to lose at least $100,000 or more in tax revenue due to changes in state tax law with the passage of House Bill 5. House Bill 5, a newer law passed by the Ohio General Assembly, mostly affects contract workers who reportedly can file tax papers later than previously able when their employees enter the city to work.
According to City Auditor and Clerk Annette Landers, money was also further lost because Ohio’s law changed in the collection of estate tax. In 2011, Gallipolis collected roughly $200,000 from the tax. Now, with changes in tax law, that source of revenue no longer exists. According to city records, estate tax brought in roughly $400 in 2014 and nothing in 2015 with the abolishment of the practice.
Boyer has claimed housing inmates cost upwards of $170,000 to $200,000 per year in past years and that number may likely increase as officers have said they cannot control the number of individuals who must be arrested. Officers have also claimed that prisoner transport can eat up a great deal of time as the jail in Gallia is always nearly full so officers are taking a lot of time moving prisoners as far away as north of Columbus and just east of Cincinnati. Housing a prisoner in the Gallia Jail can cost around $70 a day.
City officials have said the drop in budget has mostly been in relation to cutbacks on state funding.
City officials say if the levy is passed to further fund the police department, there will be a fund separate from the general fund where all of that money will be placed. If the city does collect $1.55 million from a 1 percent income tax, that would mean the city would collect $3.1 million in a 2 percent income tax. Half of that, being roughly $1.55 million, would be available for police to use.
City officials have said all of the money collected from the police levy would solely be used for police services and equipment. Part of that equipment, Boyer said, would ideally be used to outfit three new police cruisers as three aging cruisers in GPD’s police fleet have roughly 150,000 miles on them and one is bad enough officers will not drive it outside of town.
According to Boyer, equipment in the form of vests, radios and other equipment carried by officers on a daily basis can cost as much as $2,000 or more.
Breech, voicing the concerns of business owners in the city, asked what other reasons should a voter consider before voting yes or no. Many business owners and workers in the city have said they do not wish to pay a higher tax rate. Boyer said that if the police force was further diminished, crime may have a greater effect on businesses. The chief cited a recent breaking and entering of K-Mart as one of his examples.
City Commissioner Tony Gallagher emphasized the importance in understanding why the city was asking for a levy to be passed, despite doing construction on a waterfront project. The waterfront’s funding is due to roughly $1 million in funding from a federal grant. The grant can only be used for the building of the waterfront and was awarded through state organizations like the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Legally, the city cannot spend the grant money on anything beyond the waterfront project. Because of legal hurdles, the city still faces budget problems that threaten the police department, said the commissioner.
City officials have said they attempt to apply for every grant opportunity they have to fund the police force. This year, law enforcement officials instituted a “day-report” program which has saved the city nearly $40,000. The money is saved by making nonviolent offenders do work about the city, which has saved maintenance workers time and the city from having to pay for jail housing expenses.
Individuals looking for more information can visit the Gallipolis Police Department Levy Facebook page. To learn more about Gallipolis’ budget and spending habits, visit gallipolis.ohiocheckbook.com.
The city will hold another informational meeting Nov. 1 at 5 p.m. to continue discussing the levy issue.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.