Concord requests to reduce sheriff's deputy staffing due to budget limitations

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Jan. 21—Concord Township recently informed county officials that it intends to reduce its Sheriff's Office coverage from nine deputies down to six due to budget limitations, Township Administrator Andy Rose recently announced.

Rose contacted the Lake County commissioners and sheriff to amend Concord's police protection contract, he told the township trustees on Jan. 17. He later said that the reduction would mean that one deputy would be on duty in the township at any given time.

"That was a tough letter to write," he added.

Rose said that the county commissioners were reviewing the proposal as of Jan. 17.

Township officials have grappled with safety service funding since voters rejected an increased tax levy to fund those services on Nov. 7.

The Lake County Auditor's Office said that the rejected 6.5-mill, five-year levy would have raised more than $5.3 million each year. It would have replaced the current 4-mill continuous levy, which was approved in 2015 and raises more than $2.5 million each year.

"Since then (2015), EMS and fire department call volume has increased 35 percent," stated a Nov. 17 township news release.

"The Lake County Sheriff's Office call volume is up over 20 percent and since 2019, the rate of serious crimes in Concord has increased by 33 percent," it added. "The law enforcement staffing levels remain below the recommended levels for population per FBI crime statistics."

Rose previously said that safety service costs have increased by more than 40 percent since 2015.

The township's trustees said in November that they would need to consider cuts to safety services after the levy vote, though they added that safety would continue to be important.

The cuts will impact other areas as well, Rose previously said. The township will support its safety services with Concord-Painesville Joint Economic Development District funds that would have been used for other projects.

Township officials will be "suspending waterline infrastructure improvements" and using the funding to maintain safety services, he added. The county commissioners awarded Concord Township $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the waterline projects along portions of Auburn and Girdled roads in May 2023.

Rose said that officials have requested waterline funding from the 2024 state capital budget.

Township trustees Morgan McIntosh and Carl Dondorfer spoke about sheriff's deputy funding at the Dec. 21 county commissioner meeting. They asked to work with the commissioners to increase county funding for deputies.

McIntosh cited Concord Township's growth in recent decades and an increase in crime in the townships that the sheriff's office patrols, which Sheriff Frank Leonbruno discussed in 2021.

The county launched a program in 2021 to temporarily match new deputies that the townships funded, and Concord, Perry and Painesville townships joined. The Nov. 7 levies that would have continued funding the extra deputies were rejected in Concord and Perry townships, while Painesville Township voters narrowly approved that community's levy.

"The lack of financial support does not change the reality of policing necessary to keep these communities safe," McIntosh said.

The trustee stated that townships cannot collect income taxes and face "shortages in the local government fund." Townships have also increased sheriff's deputy funding in recent years while county funding "has remained flat" since cuts in 2008, he said.

Dondorfer, who formerly served with the Lake County Sheriff's Office and is currently the Waite Hill police chief, expressed concerns with retention and staffing.

"I have never been so concerned for the viability of this profession," he said. "Law enforcement agencies across the country are struggling to staff their schedules, maintain their experienced cadre of officers, and keep their communities safe."

Dondorfer said that the county had funded 12 patrol deputies for the townships since 2008, which "equated to a little over two deputies" on patrol at any given time. The townships have funded additional deputies.

"In my professional opinion, the staffing is not adequate to safely protect the community and to ensure the safety of our first responders," he said.

"We need to do everything in our power, collectively, to ensure we maintain the cadre of deputies we have here in Lake County, despite Concord's levy failure," Dondorfer added. "Losing seasoned, experienced law enforcement officers in the current environment of this profession, in my opinion, would be catastrophic."

The Lake County Sheriff's Office website states that it provides road patrols and "day-to-day policing" for the nearly 50,000 residents of Concord, Leroy, Painesville and Perry townships.