In light of the ongoing drug crisis facing communities throughout the country, city of Urbana officials appear poised to place on the November ballot an income tax levy aimed at giving local law enforcement a boost in the form of increased staffing.
According to Director of Administration Kerry Brugger, the proposed levy, expected to be before City Council in June, will seek to increase the current income tax rate from 1.4 percent to 2 percent with the additional .6 percent earmarked for police and fire/EMS operations and capital investments.
Earlier this month, Brugger informed council that during a recent meeting with members of the Urbana Police Division and Urbana Fire Division, both Police Chief Matt Lingrell and Fire Chief Mark Keller shared information on illegal activities affecting the community, especially drug use, and the impact it’s having on both divisions.
“It significantly impacts the police department and the fact they are out there beating the pavement 24/7,” Brugger said. “Right now, I don’t believe, in our current situation, that we are fully supporting our safety services the way we need to fully support them.
“You read the newspaper, you watch the news, and you see what is happening throughout the state and throughout the country. We’ve got to get ourselves in position to provide safety services,” he added.
When people move into a community like Urbana, Brugger said, they expect the city to provide basic services like water, sewer, roads, fire and police.
“They can probably do without me, but they can’t do without boots on the street,” he said.
Mayor Bill Bean said coming up with a solution to help increase the number of first responders has been a topic of discussion for some time, but now is the time to finally take action.
“It’s important that we really start talking about our safety services,” he said. “We need more boots on the ground, and we have to start preparing ourselves and preparing the community for what we are going to need.”
Bean added there is one thing and one thing only standing in the way of the city hiring more officers.
“Money,” he said. “Right now four-tenths (of the city’s 1.4 percent income tax rate) goes to our safety services. We really need more money.”
In 2010, the UPD was serving the community with a roster of 23 officers. Lingrell informed council on May 16 that he is presently doing the job with 18 officers, but he’s working on bringing aboard a 19th member.
“I need 21 people to do the job right,” Lingrell told council. “I don’t need 23.”
The lack of staffing, he added, has impacted the UPD in two areas — the loss of a specialized unit and community outreach.
“The thing that has hurt me the most is we had a specialized investigative unit,” Lingrell said. “I closed that January 2016, and I haven’t had it since. All my men go toward just patrol.”
As for public outreach through programs like Safety Town, Lingrell said he wished he had the staff to do more.
“We don’t have the people, so we don’t give the time and effort that we used to give and that we need to give,” he said.
While Lingrell added no matter how many officers he has at his disposal, the UPD will get the job done, council member Doug Hoffman said he is concerned about officers overworking themselves in order to protect and serve the community.
“The problem is, when you start working guys longer hours and putting them under more pressure, the primary function of policing starts to fade a little bit because they are just checking the box,” Hoffman said.
If the community is satisfied with a police force of 18 or 19 officers, he added, then it can elect to vote down any measure placed on the ballot to generate additional revenue for extra officers.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s responsible for us as an administration and as a council to put something before the voters,” Hoffman said.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.