WEST ALEXANDRIA — Council discussed possible budget cuts to the village police department during a special meeting held Thursday, Nov. 19.
Fiscal Officer Shaylie Werner and Village Administrator Adam Beneke delivered a proposed 2021 budget for the department of $220,000 – a drastic reduction from its current $272,000.
Chief Tony Gasper adamantly opposed the cuts, saying he was already being forced to “move money around” to cover wages, and adding that the department only employs two full-time officers, including himself. Gasper stated that even a 10 percent cut would leave him unable to provide coverage for the department’s night shift, which runs from 12-8 a.m. A $52,000 cut would leave him unable to provide weekend coverage as well.
Councilman Zach Shafer also opposed the reduction, saying that a cut of over $50,000 was “unacceptable.”
“I really am having a hard time swallowing that pill,” Shafer said.
Shafer suggested making cuts in other areas, including the $31,000 per year the village pays to the Columbus-based firm which provides its legal representation.
“That’s way too much for a municipality of our size to be spending on an attorney,” Shafer said, stating that villages of similar size in the county only spend $12 or $13,000.
Council members Ashley Myers and Holly Robbins suggested cutting the department’s second full-time officer back to part-time to “get rid of some benefits.” Mayor Jeff Hickey was not in favor of this, however.
“If a person can’t provide for his family, including health insurance, he may find another way to make a living,” Hickey said.
Gasper expressed similar sentiments.
“My budget was more than $220,000 when I started in 2004,” Gasper said. “That’s 16 years ago.”
Council also suggested getting rid of one of the department’s police cars, a measure also not favored by Gasper.
“We’ve been down to one car before, and it makes me nervous,” he said.
Shafer asked the chief to provide a “livable number” that would enable the department to maintain its current coverage.
“2021 is going to be a hard year to navigate for everybody,” Shafer said, citing looming income tax revenue reductions due to business closures and unemployment caused by COVID-19. “We need more funding to maintain the police department.”
Shafer and councilman Dan Utsinger suggested putting a levy on the ballot in March that would provide additional police funding.
“The voice of the people is very loud on this,” Shafer said. Myers opposed this, however, saying a levy would “hurt the bottom line” of those on a fixed income.
Council will hold another special meeting Monday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. to further discuss the budget issue.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish