Local law enforcement leaders want to form another version of the defunct Erie County Drug Task Force.
The Register learned area police chiefs and Erie County Sheriff Terry Lyons discussed the formation of a task force in two early May meetings.
The newly proposed task force would attempt to eliminate drugs and gun violence occurring in the community.
Ever since the March 19 slaying of Sandusky police Officer Andrew Dunn, talks to form a new task force have emerged, Huron police Chief John Majoy said,“This is certainly the culmination of it,”.
Also, Majoy said, “(The meetings) weren’t necessarily to revitalize the task force, but it was to address the ongoing issues that the city of Sandusky has with regards to the shootings and the overall gun violence over the last couple of years.”
But a lack of funding remains the biggest obstacle to recreating the task force, which has been disbanded for almost half a decade.
By a two-to-one margin, Erie County residents voted down a proposed 0.25 percent sales tax increase to fund the task force.
The last time voters approved a sales tax increase was in 1993. The rate is still 6.5 percent in Erie County.
County commissioners, meanwhile, say they’re against any sales tax increase to fund the task force in 2011. All three opposed any such increase when they were asked about it on Friday.
“It’s a difficult sale to the public right now,” commissioner Tom Ferrell said. “I’m not sure that’s one of our
No. 1 priorities.”
Said commissioner Pat Shenigo: “There are other ways we should explore this with the cooperation of other communities. The citizens have already turned this down once, so I think there are other venues, other than a tax increase, which we could accomplish this goal.”
The previous task force pooled resources, including sharing officers and vehicles among area police departments.
And that’s the same way it should be done if a task force reemerges in the near future, commissioner Bill Monaghan said.
Still, it’s unfair to raise sales taxes to fund the task force when crimes rarely occur in areas such as Groton, Florence and Oxford townships, commissioners said.
The county previously gave the task force $300,000 a year to operate, Ferrell said.
Lack of funding, however, isn’t the only issue that led to the task force’s demise.
“Some didn’t see the value in continuing the drug task force,” Erie County prosecutor Kevin Baxter said. “I don’t want to get into it, but there was some nonparticipation — some of the chiefs of police.”
In 2006, Erie County voters rejected a proposed sales tax increase to fund the drug task force.
The proposed increase would also have provided additional revenue for the county’s everyday operating budget and operating the Erie County Jail.
Of nearly 30,000 people who cast a vote on the levy, about 62 percent rejected the proposal:
• For the tax increase: 11,588 (38 percent)
• Against the tax increase: 18,742 (62 percent)
source: Erie County board of elections
ERIE COUNTY DRUG TASK FORCE:
The task force first formed in 1989. Area communities with police departments, such as Sandusky, contributed its own officers to work on the task force.
Personnel would then seek out suspected perpetrators. Authorities attempted to catch suspects in the act of selling drugs or engaging in other illegal activities. The task force disbanded shortly after voters rejected a levy that proposed to fund it.