Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mayor: Not part of talks with sheriff

POSTED: May 11, 2010

SALEM - Mayor Jerry Wolford said Monday that Auditor Jim Armeni "acted on his own" when he wrote an "official inquiry" to Columbiana County Sheriff Ray Stone asking for financial information regarding the sheriff's operations.
Wolford said he did not see getting rid of the department and wanted to put officers back on the job.
In a story published Saturday in the Salem News, Armeni said he is studying incorporating the Salem Police Department into the sheriff's department, claiming the big benefits could be an increase manpower per shift while sending a back to the county drug task force, and there could be "significant savings."
Armeni said the Salem Police Department is a $1.7 million per year "right down to the paper clip" expense.
"If the sheriff comes in and says $1.1 million, city council is going to have to take a look at that versus a levy or income tax ... if there's a way to provide more."
But Police Chief Bob Floor said, "Basically I don't see how this would work. We're going backwards. There are villages and townships with police departments. We would be the second-largest city in the county ... and without a police department if that occurred."
Floor added, "I don't see where anything is going to be saved."
Armeni sent the inquiry to Stone on May 4 and Stone said there were points of clarification he needed to make with Armeni.
"There are so many variables," he said.
Armeni said that from where he stood, "it's money and service ... it comes down to that."
He said once he receives the information the sheriff he will "bring it to council, at least to a finance committee meeting ... maybe the FOP will talk."
Officer Brad Davis, president of FOP Quaker Lodge 88, said it was an effort to abolish the police department.
Wolford said he didn't initiate, nor ask Armeni to initiate the request to the sheriff "for a cost analysis for law enforcement protection for the city of Salem."
He added, "Mr. Armeni acted on his own."
Wolford said under Ohio law, he is the "chief conservator of peace" within the city. "To paraphrase, the mayor is in charge of the safety of the city. "You can be sure I will do all I can to provide for the safety of the citizens of Salem to the best of my ability and provide revenue.
"It is the responsibility of city council to provide adequate revenue to maintain quality services for police, fire and street maintenance.
"I will continue to work with city council to achieve success in obtaining that revenue."
Armeni said, "It could be the best thing since peanut butter," but everyone had to agree or there would be budgetary "consequences."
Davis said, "The officers of the Salem Police Department have attempted to maintain the same level of professional service to the citizens, business, and guests to this town that we have since inception despite having our manpower cut dramatically over the past few years.
"This is not a logical solution at this time and the union has not been presented with a specific plan. We take pride in serving the community of which many of our officers live or were born and raised in Salem."
Wolford said Armeni had mentioned the proposal to him before.
"I pretty much nixed it in the bud. I wasn't for it," he said adding there was a perception where people would view this as an "administration" effort.
"This is too big an issue to get involved with," Wolford said, "and I don't want to be a part of it. I don't want to go back three or four years ago (to the fire district proposal), what a mess. The police department does a heck of a job, I'm extremely happy with what they do. To me it's a test of endurance. We're trying to bring some back. I don't see getting rid of the whole department ... we went through this before (and) it affected a lot of people."
Wolford added it was a "very emotional issue with people laid off ... we want to get people back to work."
In the story, Armeni said, "I'm trying to save their jobs and provide better service and get involved again with the drug task force" adding he was trying to keep things moving with the same service level at a lower cost.
"I can't seem to get anything back from the FOP, but that doesn't mean I can't look for an alternative. This is the first time I've made an initiative, a serious inquiry like this."
He explained the idea is that Salem officers would wear a different uniform and sheriff would be the law enforcement in the city.
"It's basically changing uniforms, no cuts of existing officers now. I don't see anything wrong exploring that," Armeni said.
"It's an idea," he said, adding "but it could be something council could consider. There are negotiated issues."

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