BUTLER TWP. – Butler Township’s move to disband its police department and instead contract the the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department may be facing a significant hurdle.
Funds from the township’s current police levy may not be able to be used to fund the contract according to Mary Montgomery, Chief of the Civil Division at the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office. That opinion was given in a letter to the Butler Township Trustees dated June 3.
The Prosecutor’s office serves as the township’s legal counsel.
Montgomery’s opinion is based on the language of the police levy, passed in August, 2006, that generates nearly $900,000 annually.
That resolution stated the purpose was “providing and maintaining motor vehicles, communications, and other equipment used directly in the operation of a police department, or the payment of salaries of permanent police personnel…”
Montgomery cites Article 12 of the Ohio Constitution and says “a tax can only be applied for the purpose from which it was authorized.” She also cites court cases that “prevent taxes levied for a specific purpose which the voters approve being used for a purpose the voters did not approve.”
The letter then goes on to say that “if a tax is ambiguous, courts will resolve disputes in favor of citizens against the taxing authority. The Ohio Supreme Court succinctly stated this concept in Watson v. Tax Commission.”
Montgomery concludes by saying that the levy does not mean the trustees are unable to contract with the Sheriff. However, they cannot use the police levy funds to pay for the contract.
“Funding for such a contract, however, would have to come from other sources, e.g. a new levy or general fund, rather than the present/current specific levy,” wrote Montgomery.
Butler Township Trustee Mike Lang, who has been a vocal critic of the move to the Sheriff’s Office, said that Montgomery’s letter is another example of his fellow trustees acting in haste and not doing due diligence.
“It is patently obvious this is not what the community wants,” said Lang. “The levy funding issue shows once again that the cart is so far in front of the horse, the horse can’t even see it. The board majority is not serving the township, it is serving special interests and the lack of a public dialogue and weight of the issues is a disservice to us all.”
Trustee Nick Brusky, who voted to disband the police force, said he was surprised by the letter.
“I was surprised because the ballot language that is used, whether its our township or any other, is spelled out pretty clearly in the revised code,” said Brusky. “I don’t want to say that I disagree with our legal counsel, but I do have some concerns about it.”
Brusky said he was going to use the time before the next Trustees meeting on June 27 to look into other townships’ ballot language.
“Obviously, we believe in following the law,” said Brusky. “As far as this goes, we want to make sure we are doing the right thing legally. I know that the Sheriff’s Office has spent a considerable amount of resources in putting this together for us, and they have consulted with their own legal counsel. For this not to come up is disturbing to me.”
Brusky said he has spoken to Sheriff Plummer and that the Sheriff is also looking into the matter.
“He is considering asking the Attorney General for a review and he is reaching out to the Ohio State Sheriff’s Association,” said Brusky.
A message for comment was left for Sheriff Plummer and Butler Township Trustee Joe Flanagan. This story will be updated wtih any comment from them.