GALLIPOLIS — Gallipolis city officials and Gallipolis Police Chief Jeff Boyer said that should the public safety levy pass in November, they would like to hire four full-time new officers in light of mounting crime.
The levy aims to add another 1 percent income tax to those who work in municipal limits. The city currently already has a one percent income tax. Should voters approve the measure, that would mean workers would pay a 2 percent income tax.
Those who receive income assistance or who are on Social Security would not pay for the tax as it is not counted as income.
“The reason we called this meeting was because we wanted to educate the people on this levy, income tax or whatever you wanted to call it,” Gallipolis City Manager Gene Greene said during Tuesday’s public informational meeting. “I’m just telling you that the city is at an all-time low on police officers and probably an all-time high on crime. I really don’t want to see our community go the way some of these other small communities have gone. I see activities in the park I don’t like and activities in the community. With the amount of officers we have right now, there will be a time that if it continues to go like this that we’ll have a backlog on calls. Residents are going to call and the officers may be someplace else, maybe on an (inmate) transport, and the only thing we’d be able to tell you is we’ll be by at 7:30 in the morning to fill out a report. I don’t want to see that happen.”
Greene said he felt it was not the police department’s fault, but that officers did not have the revenue to meet growing demands of crime in town.
“This year we’ve had 12 overdose reports,” Boyer said. “Our officers saved five of them with Narcan supplied by the (Gallia County) health department. When I say ‘reports,’ that’s not necessarily all the overdoses we have in town because a lot of (people) don’t report it or they treat themselves because the health department provides people with Narcan. The city, in general, has seen an increase in juvenile adult crime.”
In 2012, the city experienced 483 theft reports. In 2015, they had 520 theft reports. As of this year, there have been 339 theft reports, according to the police chief. That number does not count burglaries, robberies or motor vehicle thefts. Boyer blamed much of the property crime on individuals tied to addiction or substance abuse.
This year, there have been six motor vehicle thefts. In 2014, the city police had 7,149 calls of service. In 2015, had 7,844 calls of service. Boyer said that can range from anything to security alarm calls to thefts and drug overdoses. In 2015, there were 954 adults arrested and out of those there were 1,254 charges, those made of both traffic and criminal violations. In 2015, officers hat 1,187 police reports and 285 crash reports. Drug reports the same year numbered at 110, and this year the department is handling 85 drug reports. The drug reports can consist of overdoses, drug possessions and any other drug-related crime. In 2015, there were three overdose deaths and this year there has been only one. Boyer credited Narcan training and use by officers for the reduction.
“It gets tougher for us to deal with (crime),” Boyer said. “It gets tougher for us to deal with the drug dealers because 10 full-time officers need to get a search warrant for a house. Everybody in here probably knows of a house they suspect to have drug dealers. It takes many, many hours for our guys to do surveillance, sit on that house, get the proper information they need to go in front of the prosecutor’s office and get a search warrant with a judge to sign it. We know there are drug houses and we know there is a problem.
“Our problem is right now we’re spending many hours at Walmart or Rural King,” he said. “Following up on a house with a property crime, that also takes time. We don’t want to go to your house and take a report. We want to solve a crime and arrest that person.”
Boyer said he understood the public wants to get its property back in cases of a theft. Boyer said officers would also like to be more proactive in their investigations but are often tied up with issues like inmate transport or answering calls.
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 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. The law 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 the jail budget can cost upwards of $170,000 to $200,000 in 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.
Boyer has previously said it can take a minimum of two hours just for an officer to process a police report, let alone the time it takes for inmate transport, which can range anywhere from a few minutes to a six-hour round trip when traveling out of county.
According to Greene, one to two officers operate in Gallipolis during the day and night. However, if an officer becomes tied up with an emergency or must transport a prisoner to another county, that potentially could serve as a danger as no other officer is available to answer a call. It may also mean more overtime pay to an officer, which the city’s budget may not be able to handle in its current state. Greene said when a citizen or individual visiting the city calls for police support, they are entitled to have an officer appear in a timely manner.
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.
In an attempt to lower police costs, the department, along with help from the Gallipolis Municipal Court, has instilled a new monitoring system where nonviolent offenders are being used to perform everyday activities for the city in an attempt to cut back on jail time and help with city maintenance upkeep. City officials say this has saved around $40,000 for the police department’s budget.
City commissioner and former GPD police chief Roger Brandeberry said that when he started with the department, he was the 21st officer at the time. Commissioners urged voters to consider saying yes to the levy in the November election.
More public meetings will be announced in the future to address the levy. Off-duty officers and city officials are anticipated to go door to door to speak with Gallipolis residents.
Dean Wright can be reached at $740-446-2342, ext. 2103.