LIBERTY - After weeks of debate and controversy, township trustees have reduced the amount they intended to transfer from safety forces budgets into the general fund to help cover administrative payroll.
After passing a series of resolutions during a Dec. 12 meeting calling for the transfer of more than $143,000 from the police, fire and ambulance funds to the general fund for administrative salaries, trustees have now decided to return about $74,674 of those funds to the respective departments.
Ungaro said he has been in contact with both departments and hasn't heard any new complaints since an attorney for the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association sent the trustees a letter objecting to the legality of the transfer.
"I haven't gotten any complaints yet, it's still a work in process," said Liberty Administrator Patrick Ungaro. "There seems to be maybe some acceptance of it."
Some of the transfers are slated to help pay Ungaro's $122,731 annual salary and benefits. Other portions of the transfers are scheduled to help pay salaries for Parks and Recreation Director June Smallwood, Law Director Mark Finamore and administrative secretaries. Smallwood earned $54,054 according to 2010 payroll records; and Finamore billed the township $43,450 for legal services in 2010.
The original transfer amount had met resistance from the safety forces departments. The original transfers had comprised more than a third of the police and fire department budgets, and about 3 percent from the ambulance fund budget.
By the numbers
Liberty fund transfers:
$69,696 - initially transferred from Police budget
$67,705 - initially transferred from Fire budget
$5,974 - initially transferred from Ambulance budget
$143,375 - total transfers approved Dec. 12
$34,847.91 - returned to Police budget
$33,852.25 - returned to Fire budget
$5,974 - returned to Ambulance budget
$74,674.16 - Total funds returned last month
According to Ohio law, "Money may be transferred from the general fund to any other fund of the subdivision." The section of law also reads, "no transfer shall be made from one fund ... to any other fund ... except as follows:'' The section later states that any other transfer outside of that may be passed "by a resolution of the taxing authority passed with the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members."
Trustee Jodi Stoyak said trustees restored all of the ambulance funds and roughly half of the other monies last month. She added that fire Chief Michael Durkin had informed trustees that the ambulance money was absolutely off limits.
Ungaro said the law regarding administrative use of departmental funds changed in October, allowing municipalities to make up for budget shortfalls by charging departments for administrative services.
"I understand this is going on all over because of the taking away of local money," Ungaro said. "(Gov.) Kasich and the legislature knew they were taking all this away from municipalities, so they gave us more flexibility with the police and fire funds."
Neither Police Chief Richard Tisone or Fire Chief Michael Durkin could be reached for comment Thursday, but police Sgt. Robert Altier said one of the concerns has been the department's need to hire more officers and that the fund transfer could hamper that effort. However, Altier said that as of Thursday, trustees had given the "green light" to hire a new officer.
In related action also intended to save funds, Ungaro and Stoyak say trustees are considering abandoning their dispatch center in favor of a return to Trumbull County 911 dispatching.
"Our cost could be reduced two-thirds if we go with the Trumbull County 911," Ungaro said. "Instead of $300,000 you could be paying only $100,000."
Liberty residents overwhelmingly had approved the maintenance of the township's 911 dispatch when it came into question years ago, and the levy remains in effect through 2012, with funds available through 2013.
Ungaro said that levy brought in $190,000 last year, but because the costs of the dispatch center have risen the levy could not be placed on the ballot again at the same 1.25 mill rate. He said a new levy would likely attempt to raise 1.5 or 1.75 mills.
"It'll be an open discussion and everyone's opinion will be considered, but somewhere along the line you gotta' make a decision," Ungaro said.
Stoyak and Ungaro say they've already met with Trumbull 911 Director Ernie Cook and plan to meet with him again next week.