Pittsfield Public Safety Makes Case For Millage Increase

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Pittsfield Township Hall saw a packed house as the Director of Public Safety, Matthew Hashberger made the township’s case for a new public safety millage, Thursday evening. Harshberger and the township administration will be asking voters to approve a one mill increase over the current 1.9031 mil public safety budget this November.

The township is asking for this five year millage to find a department that is planning on spending greatly on new equipment and personnel over in order to keep up with the quality of services and personnel that it will need to serve Pittsfield Township’s ever growing population. Questions were answered to a crowd over three to four dozen taxpayers as they gathered in the township’s main hall to listen to Harshberger's presentation. But questions remain.

“For informational purposes it was helpful, and I was able to speak to the presenters afterward, so that was helpful as well. Not all of my questions were thoroughly answered,” Resident Sandy Agras said, but she was relieved to find out that the tax rate wouldn’t go up by 50 percent if the millage passes, as some residents feared.

Pittsfield Township Finance Director Tracy Wakins said that if the millage is passed, it would mean a 15 percent increase in taxes for residents, not the 50 percent increase that some residents thought.

Voters rejected the last millage increase proposal of 3.95 mils last spring. The township is engaging in these meetings to better explain why they feel the tax increases are necessary, reacting to a common criticism in the last special ballot campaign that they weren’t transparent enough, a complaint that was still voiced, June 24. One resident, Jacob Jakabcsin, got a round of applause from his neighbors when he said “I feel like there’s been a lack of transparency right now.”

Transparency and fact finding was the whole point of Thursdays dialogue, according to Harshberger. He said that the reason that the township wasn’t providing all information upfront was that it was still being calculated and worked out right now before his department brings the final ballot proposal to the Pittsfield Board of Trustees next month; wanting to present to the public a finalized version of the proposal, rather than confuse everyone with an ever changing plan. Harshberger pledged to provide a FAQ to the township website after he processes the feedback that he got at Thursday’s meeting.

Township residents seemed unclear of the necessity of why the millage has to be increased since the township’s population growth would bring in new taxpayers. The Township maintains that the increase in revenue is not enough to maintain the township’s services and grow along with the population. Pittsfield says that this is especially true as new officers have to be added and equipment increasingly needs to be replaced for a department that had had to protect a community with a steadily growing population and hasn’t increased its public safety spending in about a decade.

“The presentation was helpful. I think it would’ve been great to have done this before. I’m still not comfortable with the answers,” Jakabcsin said, because he isn’t convinced that the money being asked for in the millage would really go for public safety.

To be clear however, if the millage is passed, the township would have to spend the money gathered from the millage to pay for public safety budget items and couldn’t spend it on anything it wanted.

Pittsfield Township uses the millage to pay for its police and fire services instead of funding all of it out of its general fund. The new millage rate proposal proposes funding more of the department through the general fund, but questions were raised on why more of the department can’t be funded that way. 

“I think they answered my questions,” Resident Mike Klein said, leaving the hall after the meeting. Having sat through the meeting and asked questions, Klein said that “I’m still waying things but it has opened up my view. It is weighing positively on my opinion on how I may vote.”

Harsherger did make clear what the township will do with the money if voters approve it next autumn. Ten positions would have to be eliminated if the ballot doesn’t pass, according to the county, which is already holding off hiring until after the next vote. In addition to $600,000 of planned renovations to police headquarters, maintaining the recently required police body cameras and updating police car cameras; they are planning on replacing or modernizing their fire trucks at an average price of about half a million dollars each.

If residents approve the millage increase, they could also hire new officers, according to the Township. This would include quickly hiring a traffic safety officer, hiring two more patrol officers in 2023 and a patrol officer and another traffic safety officer in 2024. In 2025 they would also hire a new detective and a community engagement officer, followed by either another sergeant or a new administrator in 2026, to keep up with added paperwork.

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