By Charles Prince
MILLERSPORT – The Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office Operation Low Tide sweep in Fairfield Beach last Thursday brought some residents to Monday evening’s Walnut Township Trustees’ meeting.
The sweep, involving SWAT deputies and the multi-jurisdictional Major Crimes Unit, focused on burglaries, thefts and drug trafficking, resulting in six arrests on Thursday. The investigation is continuing and more arrests could be made. Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen said detectives had been investigating a serial burglary ring, potentially responsible for scores of residential break-ins.
Chief Deputy Alex Lape told residents that the Sheriff’s Office wants to be “more involved with the community.” He pledged that patrol deputies will be more proactive.
Fairfield Beach resident Floyd Duncan complained that deputies are rarely seen in the community and that it often takes hours for a deputy to respond to a complaint. Duncan recounted a television news report that there have been more than 25 break-ins in the area since July. That number of break-ins should have prompted a larger response from the sheriff’s office than he has seen, Duncan added.
“It won’t be one hour a day,” Lape promised. “Give us a chance to see if you see a difference.”
Duncan said he has lived near the park for 10 years and has never seen a drug arrest there, in spite of witnessing frequent drug sales and use. Lape said meth amphetamines have replaced heroin as the leading drug in Fairfield County. Drug users are afraid of heroin and Fentanyl, he explained. Lape said meth is now coming from Mexico and into Columbus for distribution in this area. He said it is now too expensive to manufacture meth locally, noting that the sheriff’s office hasn’t had any reports about meth labs for more than a year.
“Give us an opportunity,” Lape told Duncan. “My focus is on the areas that aren’t getting police service.”
Lape has been chief deputy for about a year. He explained he’s now in a position where he can deliver on his long-term commitment to community policing. “Look to the future,” Lape urged. “I’m trying to deliver on it.”
Trustee Terry Horn said some residents are trying to revitalize the Fairfield Beach Neighborhood Watch. It’s been a slow process, Horn acknowledged, but the area has been broken down into 22 sectors. The first step is to get to know your sector neighbors, he added.
Horn said the Fairfield Beach Property Owners Association will be meeting with Lape at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 13, at the Fairfield Beach United Methodist Church. Trustees unanimously agreed to schedule a special meeting at the same time and location so all three trustees can be present.
In other business Tuesday evening, trustees said they would meet in executive (closed) session beginning at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 9, to interview candidates for the soon-to-be vacant fiscal officer position. Candidates must be township residents and a registered voter. Resumes and letters of interest were due Friday, October 5.
Trustees also briefly discussed the three-mill road levy that will be on the November 6 ballot. The township is one of a handful in the county without a road levy. The township maintains 58 miles of road. The township can only afford to resurface about 1.4 miles of roadway each year out of their current resources. They have aggressively sought grants to do more and recently completed the third and final phase to rebuild Cherry Lane. Most of the funds came from Ohio Public Works Commission grants. The road crew is down to two full-time employees and trustees eliminated a part-time secretary position several years ago. “We’ve run out of thing to reduce,” Horn explained.
“Our road salt price doubled this year,” Trustee President Doug Leith added. “We ask for your support.”
Dying ash trees have also increased costs. Road Supervisor Tim Morris said $15,000 was budgeted for tree removal this year. Just $3,000 is left and an upcoming job will cost $4,000. “I’m in the hole,” he said. Morris asked trustees to transfer $7,000 left in the emulsion account to tree removal. Trustees unanimously agreed.
Zoning Inspector Mike Berry asked trustees to consider linking installation of a fence to the use of an in-ground pool. The township’s zoning resolution requires that a fence be installed around an in-ground pool to protect small children from falling into the pool. Right now, a property owner gets an in-ground pool permit and a separate fence permit. One township resident obtained the required permits and is now using the pool. The fence has not been installed yet. Berry said his hands are tied because the fence permit only requires that construction begin in one year. He is also consulting with the county prosecutor’s office on the issue.
Trustees’ next regular meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 6, at the township complex.