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Published: Wednesday, 7/2/2008

Pemberville residents stand by their police officers

BY MEREDITH BYERS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Pemberville residents are voicing their support for keeping the village's police department intact.

After police Chief Jeff Molnar submitted his resignation last month the village began exploring whether to contract for extra law enforcement with the Wood County Sheriff's Office or hire a new chief.

During a town hall meeting held last week to discuss the possibility of disbanding the department and contracting for services with the Wood County Sheriff's Office, residents shared their concerns about safety in the community.

Residents were most concerned about the high number of elderly people, particularly elderly women, living in Pemberville, whether officer response times in emergency situations would increase if the department were to shut down, and the department's relationship with village residents.

The meeting, moderated by Mayor James R. Opelt, drew about 50 people.

Mr. Molnar said he resigned to pursue other interests but would remain with the department as a part-time officer.

The village's police department could be on the chopping block if council decides to contract with the Wood County Sheriff's Office. The Pemberville police department's staff positions include a chief, sergeant, and five part-time officers.

The total cost of the village's police department in 2007 was $197, 492.

Costs for contracting with Wood County Sheriff's Office depend on the contract between Pemberville and the sheriff's office. The village would contract for a set number of hours.

Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn, who attended the meeting, said the hourly rate for an officer is about $30, plus an additional charge for fuel and use of the car.

The village is faced with economic concerns, namely the closing of the Modine Manufacturing plant, which is expected to close within a year. Mr. Opelt said the loss would total about $100,000,mainly from income taxes. Modine employs about 235 people, many of whom live in Pemberville and the surrounding area. The plant is the village's largest employer.

Imogene Krift, a Pemberville resident for 57 years, strongly supports the continuation of the department.

"To attract businesses, we need a full-time police force and we also have a full-time fire department and Chief Molnar has been a wonderful chief," she said.

"It does my heart good to see the police cars out and know that we're being protected," she added.

Mr. Opelt said he had placed an ad for the chief's position in local newspapers and said that the department had already received several applications.

Jim Darling, a sergeant with the department, and Brian Hill, an officer, were on hand to answer questions.

When asked about what a typical month is like for the department, Mr. Darling said the department had recently confiscated heroin and had investigated incidents of breaking and entering.

Mr. Opelt added that Pemberville, like most towns, had changed over the years.

"It's getting worse. Pemberville is not the Pemberville I knew when I was growing up. We're doing drug busts and breaking up spousal abuse and parents beating on kids - all that is happening here. I don't say that to mean Pemberville is a bad place, but it's happening here too," he said.

Those who attended the meeting were given an unofficial survey that asked about the department's performance, the kind of police coverage they would like to see in the village, and how residents would feel about a safety levy that would help cover the costs of the department. The council has not discussed such a levy.

Of those who took the survey, 42 out of 44 said they would prefer police coverage from the village police department as opposed to the Wood County Sheriff's Office. One respondent preferred the sheriff's office, and one person had no response.

"I think it's advantageous to have our own department. We absolutely need our own department to keep our town safe," said Nedra Sheets, a Pemberville resident for 45 years.

A second town hall meeting to discuss the department will be at 7 p.m. July 8 in the Town Hall.

Mr. Opelt said no decision would be madeuntil after the second meeting. He added that council would take the residents' concerns into account while making its decision.

"We are proceeding as if the department is going to stay. I don't know if the decision is going to be a difficult one after hearing the concerns tonight," Mr. Opelt said after the meeting.

Mr. Opelt said applications for the chief's position are due July 11.

"We're hoping to have someone in place before the Pemberville Fair," which begins Aug. 13, he said.



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