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Bay Village police staffing stirs debate

By Jeff Gallatin

Bay Village

Bay Village police patrol union officials said Tuesday a straw poll of their members indicates a willingness to accept concessions. City officials will likely seek concessions  to keep anywhere from one to three patrol positions and the department’s school DARE education program from being eliminated.

“They indicated in the informal poll that we are willing to do concessions,” said Anne Jindra-Smith, assistant director for the Bay Village chapter of the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “We’re waiting to hear from the city about what they will be seeking. Once we hear from them, it shouldn’t take more than 24 to 48 hours to conduct a formal vote.”

Mayor Debbie Sutherland said Monday night her administration is proposing using an expected retirement in the department, furlough days and having the Bay Village School District take over payments and responsibility for the crossing guard program to help prevent the loss of  any officers.

“Eliminating patrol officers is not the way to go to balance the budget,” she said. ‘This administration will not support any plan to do that.”

Jindra-Smith’s and Sutherland’s remarks came after a Monday night city council meeting at which more than 150 people packed the council chambers to voice their displeasure about city council considering either laying off or eliminating patrol officers to deal with a budget deficit estimated at $750,000 to $820,000. The audience, which spilled out of the council chambers, down the steps and into the first floor entrance area, was a blend of citizens, firefighters and members of the police department. Every person who spoke in the meeting indicated their support for city safety forces.

“I would suggest that instead of having police officers deliver your mail (council meeting packets) to you, you pick up it up at the police department and learn a little about the department,” resident Ray Cebulis said.

Council agreed to delay any action until at least March 18. That’s the date Police Chief Dave Wright said he would stop the DARE program if patrol positions are eliminated in order to put the DARE officer on regular patrol.

Sutherland, who also has been vocal in her opposition to reducing the 24-officer police department, said the administration is putting together the proposal.

“We plan to get it out for consideration shortly,” she said. “The retirement is expected, we’re working on the furlough days and  there will be crossing guards, but we’re likely going to ask the schools to take control of them.”

Bay Village School Superintendent Clint Keener said Tuesday  the district is aware it may be asked to assume responsibility for the crossing guards, which the city estimates cost about $63,000 annually.

“We’ve been made aware that we could be asked to take over responsibility for the guards,” he said. “We’ve been checking and found that other school districts have been asked to do this in recent years. If that is what we are asked, I will take it to the school board and they will discuss it.”

City Council Finance Committee Chairman Mike Young said after the meeting he heard and understood the citizens’ sentiments about the police department, but also noted council still has to approve a budget in times that include reduced state funding, sluggish tax revenues and a tight economy.

“I appreciate the feelings and understand people have for the strong services provided by the police and fire departments, and that is playing a role in what we do,” he said. “I’m also the finance committee chairman and as council, we have to provide the best services we can with the resources available.”

Young said he has asked Sutherland and Wright to provide council members with necessary facts and figures on the department to help council do its budget deliberations.

“Not only do we have to determine if we are providing the resources for proper staffing levels, we have to determine if those resources and what they provide are being properly deployed,” Young said.

Councilman-at-large Scott Pohlkamp read a prepared statement which expressed appreciation for what police officers do, but also noted the tight budgets.

“The state is cutting our knees out from under us,” he said, referring to budget cuts in the local government fund and the eventual elimination of the estate tax.

Referring to the DARE post, Sutherland said its future depends on the number of officers in the department.

Wright said afterwards if multiple patrol positions are eliminated, he would have to put the DARE officer on the road to help keep up patrols. The department currently has 13 shift officers, two detectives and the DARE officer classified as patrol officers. He said March 18 is the date he has set for stopping the program if necessary.

Sutherland, who asked council for an executive session to discuss personnel, contract negotiations and possible litigation, said she couldn’t spell out specifics because the contract with the patrolmen’s union is still being negotiated she said the budget was part of the discussion in the 40-minute executive session.

 

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