Brimfield voters will likely find a 2.38-mill tax levy question on the November ballot, asking whether they want to expand their police force or maintain the status quo.
Trustee Mike Kostensky said the township is stuck between static revenue and a ballooning population. He has seen the township grow from 7,561 residents in 1990 to some 10,280 now, according to 2010 census data. (Results of the 2020 census are expected this year.)
“Looking at housing growth, we estimate the population to be close to 15,000,” Trustee Nic Coia said. “There’s huge, huge housing growth happening here in Brimfield. We’re really an anomaly compared to the rest of the county.”
Kostensky estimates that the 2.38-mill levy will translate to about $82 a year per $100,000 of county valuation, which is always significantly lower than what a person could potentially sell their house for.
If voters approve the continuing (that means permanent) police levy, the township will have about $724,591 more a year for equipment, training and hiring two (and potentially three) additional full-time patrol officers, Brimfield Police Chief Roy Mosley said. That’s on top of the department’s current $2.2 million funding level that supports 18 officers.
“Our community is growing, but the number of houses coming in does not equate to more money for the police department,” Coia said.
In terms of population, Brimfield is poised to surpass the city of Ravenna, which in 2019 claimed 11,361 residents. The challenge, Kostensky says, is that city residents fund their services with income taxes, a revenue stream that is unavailable to townships.
“We’re getting so many people from the cities. They’re used to all these services, but we unfortunately are levy-based,” he said.
Two more patrol officers may not seem significant for a department that is staffed 24/7, 365 days a year, but it would alleviate some pressure. Often, only two cruisers are on the road at any given time, Mosley said.
Complicating matters, Brimfield’s retail center is fast becoming one of the leading shopping areas in the county. That growth demands a high police presence, but every time police drive through it, or respond to a call there, the rest of the township may be left exposed, Kostensky said.
“Year to date, nearly half of our criminal complaints are being generated from that area, and that does not include any warrant arrests that may have resulted from a person’s failure to appear on a previous theft charge,” he said. “Last year in 2020, nearly 70% of all theft reporting for our community occurred in this retail district.”
Walmart alone drove police activity with a 54% increase in service calls from 2015-2020, and in 2019 nearly half of all theft reporting was from that location, he said. The Cascades and Maplecrest sometimes require multiple responses per day and per shift.
Prudently, officers call for back-up when responding to these types of service calls, all the while knowing that doing so impacts police presence in the rest of the township, he said.
It’s a situation that is only likely to get worse as the township’s retail area expands westward to the Tallmadge border on both sides of Tallmadge Road, Mosley said.
Also of concern is the township’s cluster of hotels along the Route 43/I-76 corridor. In 2015 Brimfield police responded to 295 calls to those hotels, a number that rocketed to 921 in 2019. So far this year, there have already been 419 requests for police, he said.
While the requests could be for noise, premises checks, disturbances, alarms, drugs, or just about anything else, any complaint can lead to additional investigations and charges, or a warrant arrest, all of which eat up the department’s limited resources, Mosley said.
Approval of the proposed levy would also mean money for equipment and training.
“When budgets get tight, the first thing that gets cut is training,” Mosley said. “It’s important to me that we have that money to invest. Our officers want that and the community expects that.”
The Brimfield Police Department has improved its equipment by adding body and dash cams and overhauling its radio system to allow county-wide communication.
Mosley sees a need for ballistics shields in each cruiser, as well as battery-powered automated external defibrillator units (AEDs).
A few weeks ago Brimfield police responded to a call involving a barricaded man who claimed he had a firearm at a township hotel, Mosley said. With officers from surrounding communities providing mutual aid and ballistics shields, Brimfield police defused the situation.
“The only reason we had that resource available was because another agency had it for their vehicles. I don’t want our officers to be in that situation again, so any opportunity we have to help keep them safer … I want to explore that,” he said.
The AEDs are critical because EMTs respond from the township’s fire station, but a cruiser could be nearer to the location of an emergency call. An officer equipped with an AED could potentially save a life, Mosley said.
He also anticipates a need for upgraded body and dash cams, which outlive the providers’ ability or willingness to service them.
Given Brimfield’s proximity to I-76 and all the drug-related calls, dedicating an officer to the Portage County Drug Task Force is also near the top of Mosley’s — and the trustees’ — wish list. But they have not been able to do that.
“Brimfield has not had a presence on the [Portage County Drug Task] Force [because] I’ve had to prioritize the community: boots on the ground, officers on patrol. I need to make sure we have adequate resources there first,” Mosley said.
Brimfield’s leaders anticipate a robust lobbying campaign, hoping voters will realize that the funds are needed. Voters recently approved a large school levy, but none of it goes to the township, Kostensky said. And yes, there are already three continuing police levies on the books, but by law they can never bring in more than they were originally intended to raise.
In other words, as more homes are built, each property owner pays less for those existing levies, but the total dollar amount actually decreases as inflation and other rising costs are factored in. The levies and JEDD revenue fund the police department’s current needs, but they cannot absorb the needs of a growing township, Kostensky said.
Coia predicts the police department will be running on red ink by 2023 if voters do not approve the levy, and that’s without adding officers or investing in equipment or training.
“None of the trustees want to raise anybody’s taxes higher, but it’s their choice: added security or the status quo for our officers. It’s a crazy-ass world out there,” Kostensky said.
Trustees expect the county auditor’s office to approve their levy request, clearing the way for them to vote next month to place the levy bid on the November ballot.
In anticipation, Mosley is working on a website devoted to persuading voters to vote for the levy.