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Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

St. Marys considers reinstating police auxiliary

By Amy Kronenberger
ST. MARYS - City police officers could soon receive help from a reinstated auxiliary force.
St. Marys City Council members on Monday gave first reading to an ordinance to re-establish the unpaid unit to cover special events and provide additional school security. Police chief Mark Ernst said his officers work 550 to 600 hours in overtime each year in covering events such as Summerfest and Bluesfest and helping at the school.
"With unpaid auxiliary, we could eliminate all that," he said.
The city had an auxiliary unit from 1956 until the early 1990s, Ernst said, but it disbanded as members retired. Reinstating the program would make the most financial sense, he added.
Ernst runs the police academy at Wright State University-Lake Campus and said he could funnel students from his classes into the auxiliary as a way for them to gain experience. Additionally, he hopes retiring officers would want to stay as members of the unit.
"For many officers, it's not an easy thing just to walk away from," Ernst said. "I hope some would want to stay."
The chief said retired officers would be ideal because they already have uniforms and equipment, and are trained.
He would like to start with five or six members and maybe add a few more in the future, he said.
Council member Greg Freewalt asked how much it costs to equip a new officer and how much the city would save by eliminating overtime.
Fully equipping an auxiliary officer, Ernst said, costs about $2,000, but he didn't know how that would compare to the savings. He said not every auxiliary member would require new equipment as items can be reused. He expects the long-term savings to far outweigh the cost, he added.
Freewalt asked Ernst to create a spreadsheet showing costs and expenses and present it at the next council meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 8 at the municipal building. The ordinance will receive a second reading at that time.
In other action, local business owner Greg Ferrall asked council what more could be done to clean up the canal to eliminate flooding and the foul odor it sometimes produces. He said city officials should work with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which owns the canal, to fix the problem.
"My question is if ODNR is responsible for the canal, then why aren't you, as council members, making them fix it?" he asked.
Ferrall, who owns St. Marys Nutritional Foods and The Gathering, suggested lining the floor and walls of the canal with concrete where it runs under Spring Street downtown.
Safety service director Greg Foxhoven said ODNR is transitioning to a new official who will be in charge of the canal. City officials will meet with the state representative Sept. 13 to discuss the topic. He noted raising the deck in the newly reconstructed mill race bridge has helped alleviate flooding. Ferrall agreed.
Foxhoven noted the problem would take time to repair.
"It's a concern to us because it is an issue," he said. "So we're aware of it. We're working on it."
Council also heard an update on upgrades to the city's electrical grid. Electrical superintendent Dale Good said power outages have been reduced since the city installed cutouts to localize outages to a one-block area, and the upgrades allow crews to restore power more quickly.
Additionally, the Tomlinson Substation was operating at capacity, so crews redirected some of the load to other substations to prevent blown fuses. The city also bought and installed 135 squirrel guards with plans to install another 300 in the near future. Good said squirrels are the primary cause of outages.
Upcoming projects include rebuilding power poles and lines on McLain Street and revamping the AAP Substation. Crews will install a cable from the Spokeworks Substation to the AAP Substation to act as a backup power supply to either substation and the hospital. Good said the intent is to eventually tie the AAP Substation solely to AAP St. Marys Corp. as the company expands.
Council last year hired Spectrum Engineering, Auburn, Ind., to study the city's aging system. The consultants recommended a 27-step, $6.7 million plan that runs until 2020. The city so far has spent about $350,000.
Also on Monday, council members,
• passed under suspension of rules a resolution allowing county auditor Janet Schuler to set annual millage rates according to property values.
• passed final reading on an ordinance re-allocating part of the 1 percent income tax to help cover costs in the general fund. The change will increase the percentage of funds going to the general fund from 72 percent to 75 percent.
Previously, 18 percent was to fund street construction, maintenance and repair, and 10 percent was directed to the capital improvement fund. The new ordinance will change the capital improvement allocation to 5 percent.
• passed final reading of an emergency resolution authorizing a nuisance-abatement assessment of a property. Foxhoven has said the city recently cleaned the property at 224 S. Pear St. at a cost of $496. The property is owned by Scott Hutchison Properties Inc., Toledo.
The cleanup cost will be assessed on the owner's tax bill.
• passed final reading of an ordinance changing zoning classification to a property located between 1201 Indiana Ave. and 1209 Indiana Ave. from single-family residential to a multi-family residential.
• passed final reading of an ordinance that adjusts the payment schedule of the city's civil service commission from monthly to weekly to comply with state Public Employee Retirement System rules, Foxhoven said.
• learned the widening of Spruce Street and the McKinley Road intersection will be completed in about two and a half to three weeks.
• learned Foxhoven is working with area cat shelter owner Sue Cheslock to capture and spay or neuter stray cats. Foxhoven said he contacted the Auglaize County Humane Society but the organization is full and unable to help.
• learned demolition of the power plant is scheduled to begin the second week of September.
• heard a report from Freewalt regarding his recent trip with many other St. Marys residents to Lienen, Germany, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the two cities' friendship.
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