MERRILLVILLE | A property tax referendum no longer is an option to increase Merrillville's police force, Clerk-Treasurer Eugene Guernsey said.
Guernsey said he was notified by Indiana's Department of Local Government Finance the town could not pursue a referendum for the purpose of hiring 10 more police officers.
Referendums for operating expenses only are allowed for schools, according to the state department.
Guernsey and other Merrillville officials were attempting to have a referendum on the ballot in November to ask residents if they would support a property tax increase to hire 10 additional officers.
The frozen levy in Lake County has prevented Merrillville from increasing the Police Department's staff, which currently has 48 officers, town leaders said.
To become a more proactive department, it's necessary to boost the size of the force, Police Chief Joseph Petruch said.
The department could receive some financial help if a proposed residential rental registration ordinance is adopted by the Town Council.
The measure would require landlords to register each rental unit they own, and the town would charge an annual $100 registration fee for each unit.
Town Administrator Howard Fink said revenue from the fee would go to public safety.
Petruch said a federal grant Merrillville received about three years ago to fund salaries and benefits for three officers expires at the end of this year.
Guernsey said the majority of funds generated from the registration fee would be used to retain the three officers. He hopes the fee will generate sufficient funding to hire an additional officer.
While the ordinance could assist the Police Department, a main objective of the measure is protecting Merrillville renters, Fink said.
He said the ordinance would require rental units to comply with the state's building code and the property maintenance code established by the International Code Council.
It also establishes procedure for the town to inspect rental units if Merrillville receives complaints about them.
Landlords would be required to correct deficiencies discovered during inspections. Merrillville could issue fines if problems aren't addressed.
Fink expects the Town Council will consider approving the first reading of the ordinance during its Tuesday meeting.
If the measure is adopted, Merrillville would wait two to three months before it begins to collect the fee to provide landlords time to prepare for it, Fink said.