Local Communities’ Public Safety impacted by ‘Jobs Budget’

During the budget debate, Innovation Ohio noted that extreme cuts to local governments would not only result in the loss of an estimated 51,052 direct jobs of teachers, professors, fire fighters, police officers and other public servants, but would also result in the reduction of services offered by local communities.  Unfortunately this prediction is proving to be all too true.  As local governments are working to balance their budgets, one option they are faced with is laying off police and fire fighters, potentially jeopardizing public safety in the process.

These predictions are ringing true in local communities. Lancaster, in Fairfield County, will be forced to lay off 31 city workers. Largely due to cuts from the state level, and a decrease in income tax returns, the city faces a $1.25 million shortfall in 2011 and a $2.5 million shortfall in 2012. In order to address this shortfall, the mayor has placed a .25% income tax increase on November ballot and has proposed eliminating 20 firefighters and eliminating 6 police officers, in addition to several other positions in the city.

These cuts will reduce fire protection staffing levels to 1980 levels, with the closing of one fire station and the reduction of the number of medics on shift from three to two. Citizens are worried that this will increase response times and fear that it could put residents in dangerous situations.

Lancaster is not alone in their struggles, as this trend is evident throughout the state. Mount Sterling, a village in Madison County, has been forced to eliminate its entire police force. Although patrols will be increased on some shifts by the Madison County Sheriff’s office, this will mean deputies have to travel longer distances with longer response times as a result. Residents and long time business owners are concerned. One business owner, Jay Rapp said, “I’m scared. How long will the response be?  Instead of just 30 seconds it could be 30, 20, 15 minutes.”

Franklin County expects to lose $30 million in state aid from its general fund budget. As the county considers how to absorb these cuts, Sheriff Scott has relayed concerns that a 10% cut in funding could result in the elimination of 143 sheriff deputies. Such a cut would increase wait times, limit the types of prisoners the jail would take, and result in only one deputy for every five or six judges.

Commenting on the Lancaster layoffs, Sue Cave, with the Ohio Municipal League noted “This is the beginning, all of the cuts that came as a result of the state budget will hit the hardest starting Jan. 1. I think we are going to see more of this.”