Ashland is on track to add another two police officers as soon as they can be hired, trained and sworn in, but another another three positions will have to wait until city councilors nail down where the money will come from to pay for them.
The Ashland City Council on Tuesday passed an ordinance to raise fees on utility meters by 50 cents per customer per month, which will raise roughly $75,000, according to Councilor Rich Rosenthal, who proposed the ordinance.
The council earlier this year promised Police Chief Tighe O’Meara five new officers at a cost of more than half a million dollars yearly when it passed an ordinance in April. The roughly $550,000 has proved to be elusive however, not being found through budget committee meetings nor in subsequent council sessions.
Property taxes were raised by 4.5 cents per $100,000 in assessed valuation at a specially called June 30 meeting. That was enough for one new officer. This utility fee paves the way for a second.
As to the other three officers, the council decided to create a working group to see if revenue could be found in the existing budget. But as of now, two officers are approved for hiring rather than five.
Councilors Traci Darrow and Dennis Slattery voted against raising the meter fee. “To be clear, for however this is reported, I am in favor of hiring five new police officers if we can find the appropriate revenue,” Slattery said, stating his support for hiring new officers. “No one wants the five officers more than I do. I voted for it on the contingency we would find the right funding and I haven’t seen it yet.”
“I am opposed to further increases in utility fees,” said Darrow. “It’s too hard on people. I can’t support it, as I have stated.”
Councilor Mike Morris disagreed. “It’s a household fee and the only way to capture it is through the meter.” He further said he did not think 50 cents more per month would be a deal breaker. “I think we need these two officers and I support it.”
Councilor Greg Lemhouse urged councilors to push for the full five officers, but eventually agreed to the fee for one more so long as the idea of hiring three more full time officers would still be considered.
The drafter of the ordinance, Rich Rosenthal, agreed to consider all of the proposed hires depending on how much money comes in from the city’s share of the state’s marijuana tax. “Once we know the marijuana tax number, we can see what’s there.”
Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara had argued for five officers, saying that would give him four people on the beat for each shift and one more as a School Resource Officer. He has said without the extra officer per shift, there are times when only one officer is in a cruiser on a given shift.
On Tuesday he told the council he had two finalists identified, one an experienced officer from North Dakota and the other a local person who would need initial training. “If you gave me the go ahead tonight, that person may not be fully trained by tourist season next year,” O'Meara said.
O’Meara says it takes roughly nine months to train a rookie cop. The other person who is a “lateral hire” with experience who could be trained much more quickly.
The council agreed to continue looking for funding by scouring the current, recently approved budget and seeking cost savings elsewhere.
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.