HARTVILLE  Funding in the police and streets departments are front and center this month following the defeat of Hartville’s proposed 0.5 percent income tax increase Nov. 6.

Revenues from the income tax increase, which would have raised the village income tax rate from 1 percent to 1.5 percent, would have been used specifically for street repairs and the construction of a new police facility. No changes were proposed to the village’s 100 percent tax credit for residents who work in other communities.

Voters roundly defeated the tax issue by an 842 vote to 416 vote margin, based upon unofficial results from the Stark County Board of Elections. This was the latest of several attempts to increase the village income tax, but the first time the village included language explaining exactly how the increase would be spent.

"It didn’t work," Mayor Cynthia Billings said simply.

In the wake of the results, Billings said the village can continue to chip away at its attempt to repair and pave every street in the village with its current $150,000 to $200,000 every two years repair budget.

"But it is going to take a long time to get to all of our roads," the mayor said, noting that council members are expected to begin discussions at a finance committee this week.

Meanwhile, a new Police Department facility remains on the top of the priority list.

"My hope is that we can still find a way to fund a police building," Billings said, adding this this point, all options are expected to be considered - including going back to voters in 2019 and the possibility of reducing or eliminating the resident tax credit.

"We have talked about other things, but we’ll just have to regroup," the mayor said immediately following the election. "The police (building) is the most important thing." 

Safety concerns

Both Billings and Police Chief Larry Dordea said a new police facility, to replace the department’s 500 square-foot space inside Village Hall, is an immediate safety concern for both police officers and the public.

"There is no running water, no restrooms, officers are eating their lunch in the same place (where interrogations) take place," Billings said.

Dordea said the design of the department would be adequate as a police department outpost, but not as a functioning, full-time police department. The building has no bulletproof windows, no locker rooms, and weapons, evidence and equipment-holding areas share space with interrogation and employee lunch rooms.

The chief added that while the majority of prisoners are taken directly to the Stark County Jail when arrested, in some cases they are processed at the Hartville station. In these instances, safety becomes a major concern with the proximity to weapons and inmates, police personnel, and the others forced to use restroom facilities inside village hall. 

Safety and privacy concerns are also heightened, Dordea said, when police are faced with interviewing both victims and suspects within the same limited space.

"We are 13 professionals in (the equivalent of) one of those tiny houses," Dordea said. "My takeaway from the election results is that the Police Department didn’t do a good enough job of educating the public of our reality.

"We respect how the voters feel, but I don’t think they understand what the Police Department is dealing with when all they see is how effective a department we are; ‘you are very effective, so your workplace must be adequate.’ But it is completely inadequate."

Problems remain

An architectural survey commissioned by the village earlier this year found that a department the size of Hartville, serving the population of the village, would need a roughly 6,000 square foot facility, with three holding cells, increased office space, and the ability to transport prisoners under roof, Dordea said.

Billings said the price tag for such a project has been estimated at $2 million, with construction expected to take a year.

Dordea went on to say that a departmental needs assessment conducted two years ago found that while the Hartville PD is "a unicorn" in terms of how few injury, property damage or lawsuit incidents exist, yet the department’s highest liability is its "lack of space to function properly."

Meanwhile, Dordea said, with the village becoming one of the fastest growing areas in Stark County, land to construct a new facility becomes scarcer and more expensive.

"A year ago we had an entire industrial park available, now we have zero (parcels)," he said. "So (businesses and residents) are coming, so how do we prepare?"

Dordea said that he hopes to have the opportunity to participate in administration and village council discussions about the next steps in funding a new police facility.

"The tax didn’t pass, but the problem didn’t go away," he said.