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Published: Thursday, 11/10/2005

Swanton mulls fate of police department

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

SWANTON - Now that voters have shot down a funding request to operate the police department, village council will begin reviewing options - including whether to cut back or eliminate the department.

Rejecting the proposed income tax was the "will of the people," said William Belinger, head of the council's finance committee who was re-elected to council this week. Residents "in effect are saying that police service is not a major priority that they want to pay for."

The fate of the department likely will be discussed during the Village Council's next meeting, which is Nov. 14, said Jon Gochenour, village administrator.

The 0.5 percent additional income tax would have generated about $440,000 a year for operating the police department.

"It's a sad day for the citizens of Swanton," said Homer Chapa, who has been police chief since 1989.

Mayor Tandy Grubbs said he was disappointed that the tax issue did not pass, but he was not surprised.

"Most of the comments said to me before the vote were negative," he said. Many residents opposed the income tax hike, he said, because they already are feeling financially pinched by school taxes and by newly imposed assessments for village services, such as for leaf pickup and street lights.

"I am not sure what direction council will take to insure funds for the police department," Mayor Grubbs said. "The one thing that I am sure of is that they will not disband the department under my watch if I can help it."

Dismantling the police department would be a bad idea for a community the size of Swanton, with the number of calls the department receives, he said. Development, including new homes and businesses, is bringing an additional demand for police services.

During a recent month, the Swanton police department handled more than 650 calls for information, assistance, and service that included dealing with a variety of complaints and issuing traffic citations.

Until council makes a decision on the fate of the department, "we're going to run business as usual," Chief Chapa said. "It is our duty to continue."

But, he said, at this point, the department's staff is in limbo.

"What do I tell my officers? Will they be here for a year or what?" Mr. Chapa has been with the Swanton police department for 26 years.

Mr. Belinger said he won't make any forecasts about the department's future, but shutting it down is an alternative.

However, council first could consider trimming back the department's personnel to reduce expenses.

Cutbacks also could be made in the street department which, like the police department, is funded out of the village's general fund.

Council could decide to put a funding issue for the police department back on the ballot, possibly as a levy instead of an income tax request, said Mr. Belinger.

Two new council members will take office in January, according to Tuesday's unofficial tabulations - Pamela Moore and Michael Rochelle. Both were opposed to the income tax hike. As discussions continue on the police department, "we will listen to the two new members," said Mr. Belinger.

There should be sufficient funds to keep the police department running for the remainder of this year, Mr. Gochenour said, but officials are still working on the budget for the coming year.

Carryover amounts continue to decline as the village taps into those funds to make ends meet.

Contact Janet Romaker at:

jromaker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6006.



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