Sheriff road patrols may get cut in Jerusalem Twp.

Kelly J. Kaczala

        Lucas County Commissioners, in cutting the budget earlier this year, noted that the sheriff’s office is not required to conduct road patrols in the townships.  Legally, the sheriff had certain responsibilities, they said. Road patrols were not among them.
        That has left Jerusalem Township Trustee Mark Sattler wondering how the township is going to protect its residents.
        “It’s an area of concern,” said Sattler. “But there’s a lot of things up in the air right now. Obviously, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into things. The Lucas County Commissioners have deeply cut the sheriff’s budget. Commissioners have determined that road patrols are not necessary or not part of basic law and order. So that is a way for the sheriff to reduce staffing, reduce their field presence, and reduce their budget.”
        The township for years has provided a substation for the sheriff’s office in the town hall complex.
        “We provide them with an office. I can’t say they are in the township every day. There are times when we can go a couple of days without a deputy. If there is an event, they have to dispatch either from the downtown jail, or from the outpost by the airport.”
        Sheriff John Tharp is continuing the road patrols. His term ends this year and he is not seeking re-election. The eight candidates for sheriff have not given their views on the matter.
        “So we honestly do not know what’s going to happen,” said Sattler. “Tharp has been committed to try and keep road patrols. But after his term is finished, we don’t know what the new sheriff’s position is going to be. Whoever is elected may end up eliminating road patrols.”
        The township is located at the eastern tip of Lucas County. “We’re easily overlooked. It’s fairly rural out here. So it’s a concern for us,” said Sattler.
        If money was no object, the township could start its own police department. But that’s not realistic, said Sattler.
        “We have about 3,100 residents and probably about 1,100 homes. To provide even minimal police staffing, you’re talking about a half million dollars or more. We don’t have that many tax paying homes. So that would be a pretty heavy tax burden,” he said.
        The township’s revenue sources are property taxes, fuel taxes, and hotel taxes.
        “Our revenue sources are down,” he said. “Obviously, hotel use is way off. We’re probably seeing just 15-20 percent of what we saw before COVID-19. Fuel taxes are down as well. People are spending less on gas. Most people are minimizing their travel because of the pandemic. I don’t expect a big change in property taxes. That is driven by the auditor and home values. So that should be fairly stable. When you’re a small township, all of the pieces are important that make up the revenue pie. We’re not getting what we’re used to getting. We’re watching it very closely.”
        The revenue primarily goes toward maintaining the fire department, maintenance, a zoning inspector, the trustees and fiscal officer.
         “We are anticipating seeing those revenues continue to drop. We’ve been cautious. We had planned to do some road work that had been in the works for a year or two. We are going ahead with that. We got a much better price on that road work. Volumes are down. So we thought the roads do need to be repaired.”
Court ruling
        Captain Matt Luettke, from the sheriff’s office, said the overall budget for the county has been reduced by 20 percent. Some townships are paying for a deputy for patrol, specifically on the western side of the county.
        Townships were faced with a similar reduction in road patrols during the Great Recession of 2008, he said.
        “County commissioners at the time decided to return to statutorily mandated services,” he said, a reference to the Ohio Revised Code. Section 311 outlines the sheriff’s responsibilities.
        “One of the things they brought up was that there was no mandate for the sheriff to have a road patrol. It just states, as the chief law enforcement officer of the county, the sheriff must `keep the peace.’ Nobody knows what the true definition of `keep the peace’ is. But a federal court ruled in the 1970s that a sheriff did not have to provide road patrols but was required to maintain a jail when faced with a reduced budget.
        “There was a statutory need to run the jail but not road patrols. So from time to time, the county commissioners remind sheriffs that road patrols are not required by law,” he said.
        Luettke said steps are being taken by the Sheriff’s Office to find ways to counter the cuts.
        “We know there’s not a lot of money coming in right now. So we’re looking at ways to save money, like reducing overtime and using technology when we can.  We’ve always been fighting for our budget because we’re the biggest expenditure that the county commissioners have.”
        There currently is no reduction in services for township residents. 
        “You can’t just turn off a service that leaves townships unprotected at any point,” said Luettke.            


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