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Thornville voters will make the call on policy levy

THORNVILLE- Village Council members approved the first step March 28 to place an additional five mill police levy on the November ballot.

Opinions were mixed as to whether the village needs another full-time officer or more part-time protection, but council members ultimately decided it’s the village residents’ call, not theirs.

“Council, after much discussion decided to move forward with the process to put a levy on the ballot,” said Thornville Mayor Gavin Renner. Council members Mary Renner, Lynne Snider, and Dale Brussee voted in favor of moving forward with the levy process, council members Ryan Yzenski and Heidi Robinson voted against, and council member Olivia Newbold abstained from vote.

“The various options received from public input (during a special March 14 council meeting) were discussed at length,” Renner said. He said council decided to proceed with a five-mill levy for the purpose of hiring a full-time police officer to provide additional patrol options. “This won’t get us to 24/7 coverage, but it will provide another 40 hours for the department to work with,” Renner said, adding it would also cover a budget deficit for current police department salaries.

“I’d like to see what the public has to say and ultimately that comes down to a vote,” Renner said. “If people want more options available to them because they are concerned about speeding, curfew, vandalism, petty theft, the levy will provide a greater ability to provide local coverage during certain time periods. If people don’t think that the current level of incidents we’re seeing are major enough, they can defeat the levy and we’ll do the best we can with what we’ve got.”

Renner said the cost of a five-mill police levy would be roughly $130 per year per $100,000 home valuation. “In my opinion that’s fairly low,” he said. “We have reasonable tax rates here in Perry County compared to other areas but it is an extra expense people should consider. There’s also no guarantee that this will stop all crime but I have every bit of confidence in our Police Chief Darrell Ball and our current auxiliaries.

I know they’ll do a great job whether they have a levy to work with or not.”

Monday night, council debated at length whether the village would require an additional full-time officer (the current staff includes a full-time police chief and several auxiliaries), one or two part-time officers who would not receive benefits, or additional auxiliaries.

“How likely would it be to hire two people on a part-time basis,” Robinson said. Neither officer would have benefits.

“That’s the issue there,” Ball said. Candidates for part-time work would probably have inferior qualifications. He said many departments hire part-time officers, but it’s a “revolving door” with heavy turnover. Ball said none of the current auxiliaries is interested in a part-time position. “I’d have to look outside of that,” he said.

Yzenski asked Ball if he’s satisfied with the current staffing of the Thornville Police Department.

“Yes,” Ball said. He said other than a recent attempted robbery at the Thornville Pharmacy, there have been no robberies “in the six years I’ve been here.” Ball said he doesn’t agree with the Perry County Sheriff’s Department’s assessment of how many runs Thornville has. He believes for whatever reason the sheriff’s numbers are too high. “You have to look at those numbers and take them with a grain of salt,” Ball said.

“In your opinion, do we need to add extra patrols,” said Snider.

“The help would be great,” Ball said; however, it’s tough to determine how much help is needed because violations don’t occur with regularity. He said he may go for days without an incident, and then several will take place in one day. “It’s a checks and balances system,” he said.

Ball said it would be advantageous to have an officer on staff being groomed to be chief one day.

Mary Renner said she likes the idea of part-time officers, but believes it’s wise to stick with the five-mills for a full-time officer. “If you go low, and then have to turn around and ask for more money, it’s going to look really bad,” she said.

Snider said she believes the question of bringing on more auxiliaries is a “moot point.” It’s difficult to schedule officers who are basically volunteering.

Ball said there are expenses associated with auxiliary officers, and simply hiring more could be a financial draw.

“Basically, what it come down to is we have to pick the millage,” Gavin Renner said. He said his main concern is that the department has the equipment and materials necessary to maintain the staff’s safety and allow officers work effectively.

Newbold said she’s torn on the decision because the council hosted the March 14 meeting and people stated concerns about police protection.

“We were going to take it to the people because it’s a bigger issue than a council issue,” Mary Renner said.

“I still believe six people should not decide for the whole village,” said Administrator Beth Patrick. She said 30 people attended the March 14 meeting and it’s easy to assume many others have strong opinions as well.

Robinson said she only heard from one person, and that person opposed raising taxes.

“Whether they pass it or not, they get to decide this,” Brussee said. With a vote, those who do have strong opinions cannot come back on the village, saying no action was taken to affect police protection. He said it’s been 10 years since a police levy was on the ballot; that levy failed. “We’ve opened a Pandora’s box now,” Brussee said. Those who want more protection must be presented options. He said his idea from the beginning was to place the issue on the ballot. “It’s sort of out of the realm of us now,” Brussee said.

Mary Renner said she’s heard from residents that more police protection is necessary. She said the sheriff’s office could be slow to respond to calls if there is a response. “No offense to the sheriff, but we could use an extra officer,” she said. “That’s my opinion.”

Council will have to take two additional steps to place the new levy on the November ballot.

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