Levy can't be used for Community Watch
Madison Township cannot use money from a 1.3-mill police levy approved by voters last year to start a Community Watch program, according to the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office.
In a July 10 letter, Jason Wagner, a legal intern with the office, told Trustee Gary McDonald he "could not locate anything that provides authority of the township to use public funds towards a community watch program."
He also advised McDonald that there is nothing in the Ohio Revised Code that appears to grant township trustees the authority "to purchase the necessary equipment for the proposed plan." Furthermore, Wagner wrote that state statute "does not provide express authority to appoint individuals to volunteer positions."
McDonald, who has been pushing the township to establish a Community Watch program, said he was disappointed "that township levy funds cannot be used."
"I feel it's a good, worthy program, a way of providing additional assistance," he said. "This is just a temporary setback, in my opinion. We have an opinion from the prosecutor's office; we'll abide by it."
Township Police Chief Greg Ryan told trustees at their July 11 meeting that both the Blacklick Estates Block Watch Program and Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge 9 "don't support the (Community Watch) patrol function."
"(These)are two groups that are stakeholders in this," he said. "We have to meet with each group to hammer out a solution."
Ryan also presented trustees with a cost analysis for the program. He estimated the combined costs of volunteer training, physicals and psychological testing would be $1,359 per volunteer. He said uniform costs would run about $172 per person and he projected the necessary equipment modifications to transform a retired patrol vehicle into a Community Watch Patrol vehicle to be approximately $3,140.
He also estimated fuel costs at $4,550 per year, based on using 25 gallons per week at $3.50 a gallon.
McDonald said any uniform costs could be defrayed through donations and eliminating the current township practice of allowing take-home vehicles for some police officers would free additional funding that could be used for a Community Watch patrol vehicle.
In his letter to McDonald, Wagner recommended finding alternative funding streams for the proposed program, possibly through a Project Safe Neighborhood grant or from the use of criminal forfeiture funds, such as those seized through drug raids.
"These sort of funds aren't going to be subject to as much scrutiny and regulations like public funds," Wagner wrote.