November 27, 2014

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Grafton offers township discount protection

GRAFTON — Village officials are drawing up a proposal to have Grafton police officers begin patrolling in Eaton Township, although a township trustee said she doesn’t see the plan coming to fruition.

Village Administrator Patrick Mudge said the offer came after he had a conversation with Eaton Township Trustee Linda Morrison a few weeks ago. Morrison said Mudge pitched the idea to her while they were talking about a safety program for children walking to school.

Mudge said he is working on a plan that would see village police officers take over a 20-hour-per-week contract for service currently provided by Lorain County Sheriff Phil Stammitti’s deputies. The contract, one of four such deals in place between Stammitti’s office and a few townships, is in addition to regular police service provided by deputies.

Stammitti would continue to be responsible for providing law enforcement coverage for the township even if the village and township were to reach an agreement that would require the formation of a new policing district, Mudge said.

He said the village would charge less for mileage and pays its officers less than what deputies earn.

“I think we’re going to be under what they’re paying now,” Mudge said.

But Morrison said it’s unlikely that the township would ever take up Grafton on the offer, no matter how good the deal the village proposes ends up being.

She said the township currently pays around $46,000 per year for the extra patrols from deputies, but that service will probably be phased out by the end of the year because of budget cuts the township expects to enact to deal with a loss of revenue caused by falling property values and property tax collections. Morrison said the budget hole is projected to be between $46,000 and $48,000 next year.

Doing away with the extra patrols would allow the township to continue to provide road and fire services and avoid layoffs, she said.

“We try to increase the patrols and do things, but I don’t know that the township can afford it,” Morrison said.

Mudge acknowledged that he also told Morrison that the village might make a similar offer to Carlisle Township, which also abuts Grafton, but he said no conversations have taken place with Carlisle officials.

Stammitti said he wasn’t particularly happy to learn what Grafton was trying to do or that village officials never told him about it.

“That kind of underhanded stuff just causes dissension and problems,” Stammitti said.

Mudge said he is concerned about a conversation Stammitti had with Grafton Police Chief Dan Clark after the sheriff learned about the village’s planned proposal to the township. He referred questions about that conversation to Clark, who did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

“I would hope there wouldn’t be any retaliation,” Mudge said.

Stammitti said the conversation Mudge was referring to took place when he called Clark to complain that the chief hadn’t informed him that a deal with Eaton might be in the works. He said Clark should have informed him as a “common courtesy.”

The sheriff said there would be no retaliation.

He also said that if Mudge is interested in saving money, the sheriff’s office could probably provide police services in Grafton cheaper if the village dissolved its Police Department and brought in deputies to enforce the laws in the village.

Mudge said the village is trying to enhance the reputation of the Police Department and he wants to see additional officers hired on even if the Eaton deal falls through.

The proposal is the latest controversy to hit the Grafton Police Department in recent months.

Former Chief Lonnie Carroll was fired without explanation by Mayor Megan Flanigan in August and has sued to get his job back.

Clark, who replaced Carroll, had served as a part-time patrol officer prior to being named chief. Phil Stoker, who had been one of the department’s two full-time officers, was made a lieutenant just prior to Carroll’s termination.

The department’s remaining full-time patrolman, Scott Kilgore, has become a union of one after he and Stoker pursued unionization earlier this year.

Mudge said that the village’s full-time sergeant, Ken Jake, three part-time dispatchers and five part-time patrol officers are all pursuing forming their own unions.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.