M'ville official says voters appear to favor tax increase for more police

2012-06-02T18:30:00Z M'ville official says voters appear to favor tax increase for more policeBy Chas Reilly chas.reilly@nwi.com, (219) 662-5324 nwitimes.com

MERRILLVILLE | Clerk-Treasurer Eugene Guernsey is confident Merrillville voters will support a property tax increase to hire 10 more police officers.

After hosting two public forums on the proposal, Guernsey said Town Hall would have been flooded with residents if they were vehemently against the proposal to increase property taxes by about $53 annually. The meetings on the proposed referendum "went well," he said.

"I'm confident it will go all the way," Guernsey said.

Most residents realize the need to boost the Merrillville Police Department's staff, Guernsey said, and town leaders are seeking the increase because of the property tax levy freeze in Lake County.

During the two meetings Guernsey has hosted with Councilwoman Carol Miano and Councilman Don Spann, some residents suggested options other than a property tax increase to add more officers.

He said Merrillville leaders already considered some of the suggestions, such as enacting a hotel/motel tax. The town hasn't received the authority needed to create such a tax, Guernsey said.

Other suggestions, including using reserve officers or having fundraisers, aren't feasible, he said.

Other residents have asked if the proposal will be sufficient to hire 10 officers.

Guernsey said the amount was determined from figures provided by town police.

Police Chief Joseph Petruch said it would cost about $96,000 for each officer hired. The amount would increase if the new officers would have to be trained at the police academy, he said.

Guernsey plans to have the referendum on the fall ballot.

Before the question can get on the ballot, the town must gather signatures from 10 percent of Merrillville residents who voted in the last Indiana Secretary of State race, said Michael Deppe, an attorney providing free legal services for the referendum.

The amount of signatures obtained wasn't immediately available.

Deppe said an approval of the referendum doesn't guarantee property taxes would increase. The state's Department of Local Government Finance would have to authorize the increase, he said.

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