Crime Lab .4 mill levy on the May 2018 ballot…necessity or luxury?

 We, as “Lobbyists for Citizens”, are very concerned about the ever escalating real estate taxes in Lake County.  The Lake County Commissioners have approved a request by the Lake County Crime Lab for a .4 mill levy to be placed on the May, 2018 ballot.  We asked for,  and were granted,  a tour of the facility on January 30th.

The Crime Lab is a governmental agency that is under the direction of Mr. Charles E. Coulson, Lake County Prosecuting Attorney.  The concept for the lab was started by Judge Mitrovich in 1973 with the aid of a Federal grant.  The judge wanted a faster turnaround, and greater details on the processing of evidence to aid law enforcement and the judicial system.  The original lab was located at Lakeland Community College and moved to their current location in 1991.

We found the employees of the lab to be very helpful;  they answered all of our questions, and were obviously skilled at their profession.  A bit of trivia that we did not know is the human fingerprints can be worn down (anyone handling paper is susceptible to this).  However, within a month the prints will grow back and will be exactly the same prints.

The drug detection department can be a very dangerous area for employees doing the testing.  The new variations of fentanyl can be accidentally absorbed by the body, and then the scientist can overdose.  Did you know that the Chinese are altering drugs at the molecular level to make the opioids even stronger?  The drugs are being shipped in the mail or being brought across the Southern border, and they are also being illegally manufactured in the United States.

The Laboratory Director stated that they are going to need three new technicians to keep up with the case load, and there is a pressing need for upgraded computers, testing equipment and software to enhance the capabilities of the technicians.  Although the offices were neat and clean, it seemed to us that they are working in cramped areas and it needs updating.  All of their technicians have advanced degrees in either forensic science, biology, or toxicology. No question, they have put together a formidable staff.

 

  • A little bit of history— Mr. Coulson wrote a letter to the Commissioners on May 18, 2017 raising the awareness that the Crime Lab was running out of money to sustain its current level of operations. Here is a copy of the letter:
    Coulson ltr to Comm 5-18-17

In Mr. Coulson’s letter , he requested a .5 mill levy be placed on the November, 2017 ballot which would support the Crime Lab for another 12 to 15 years.  For some reason, his request was not granted. (Comment: Either the Commissioners did not believe in the need for the levy, or they did not want to jeopardize the Childrens’  levy or Council on Aging levy that were also on the ballot)

Here are the reasons given in May, 2017 for the need for the .5 mill levy:
1. The lab is probably the most important crime fighting tool for local law enforcement.  If they did not have the laboratory, ,many crimes would go unsolved.
2. There is an increase in the caseload because of the opioid epidemic.
3. Increasing capabilities of the Lab and the staff.  “Touch DNA”, requiring only a small sample of skin cells,  is a prime example of the increased technology available.
4. Increasing case loads require more staffing and greater costs for supplies.
5. They do things the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations does not do.  BCI does not do DNA on property crimes, hair comparisons, or toxicology on alcohol cases.
6. BCI also limits the number of samples in a murder case, nor do they test for all of the drugs that are appearing in Lake County.

 Some financial statistics:     The Crime Lab in 2008 had annual expenses of $1,475,906, and in 2016 needed $2,514,810 to operate. They project that they will need $2.8 million in 2018 to operate. Their current facility cost the taxpayers ~$346,640.

In 2010, they had surplus cash reserves of $5,102,087, but the current levy is now generating only ~$1.5 – $1.6 million in tax revenue. (Comment: It is easy to see why Mr. Coulson said that they are running out of money: $1.6 million in revenue to cover a $2.8 million operation does not make for a healthy balance sheet.  Unfortunately, It is the same scenario for our seniors living on fixed income, or the ~14% of Lake County residents living at, or near the poverty level.)

You will hear that the .4 mill levy will only cost the taxpayers $14.00 per year per $100,000 of home valuation. (Comment: Remember the calculation $100,000 home valuation x 35% = $35,000 assessed value x .4 mill = $14,000 / 1,000 = $14.00.  [Good rule of thumb to remember is 1 mill = $35.00 annual in property tax for each $100,000 in home valuation.]

Here is what I think politicians need to recognize…..they forget what I call the “Housing Affordability Factor” [HAF].

It is generally accepted that if you pay more than 30% of your annual income on the mortgage, utilities, and taxes {for renters it is monthly rent plus utilities} then that home is deemed as “unaffordable” at your current annual income level.  You can still live in the home, but other areas of your life will suffer.

So the $14.00 per year that will be advertised is really $46.67 per year per $100,000 of home valuation.  A taxpayer with a home valuation of $300,000 will pay $42 per year in taxes, but their HAF cost is $140.00.  If you do not consider the HAF then slowly but surely the increasing real estate taxes will price you out of your home.

Back in May, 2017, Commissioner Daniel Troy had some real concerns about the Crime Lab:

  • Lake County spends about 65% to 70% of its budget on criminal justice
  • Very few counties have a stand-alone crime lab
  • We have a stand-alone narcotics bureau
  • Taxpayers spend a lot of money on criminal justice

Mr. Coulson,  in May, 2017,  was requesting a 226% increase in funding for the Crime Lab.  Commissioner Troy was not convinced that a 226% increase is in order.

Also at that time, Commissioner Troy stated that he wanted whatever was necessary within reason for the Crime Lab.  Troy said, “We live in a world where resources (are) finite.  There is only so much capacity in my mind for the voters to pay property taxes.”  (Comment: This is, to me, a very interesting statement made by Commissioner Troy. When I asked him and the other Commissioners if they agreed with me that if we stay on the path of ever escalating real estate taxes we will price those living on fixed incomes out of their homes……Troy answer was that there is a lot to consider…..so, in effect, he  “pleaded the fifth”, not wanting to get boxed in by answering a legitimate question.  Full disclosure – the other two Commissioners also gave me responses that I would classify as “maybes”.)

In our opinion, the Lake County taxpayers will need to decide if they wish to continue to pay to maintain the Crime Lab.  If the lab closes due to lack of taxpayers’ support, I would assume that the work would be sent to the State Crime Lab in Richfield.  There does not appear to be any substantial other possible revenue streams.  However, we were told that they do not handle property crimes, so we would have to use some other regional lab.  What we must remember is that there will be a cost to process the evidence, whether we have our own lab, or we contract the services to some other regional laboratory.

The Lake County Commissioners cut the levy from .5 mill requested last year to .4 mill levy in May, 2018. We have not heard or read a public statement from the Commissioners in support of the Crime Lab levy.  Perhaps it will come before the election in May, 2018.

Here is their website:

http://www.lakecountyprosecutor.org/crimelab/

If you have a desire for a tour of this fascinating facility, they would be happy to oblige.

 

 

 



Categories: Lake, Real Estate Taxes

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