CANTON: A Stark County Common Pleas judge said he expects to rule Wednesday on whether voter approval last fall to create the Lake Township Police Department should stand or the election result should be tossed out.
Judge John Haas heard testimony Monday from a dozen township residents who said they would have voted against the 4.5-mill police levy if they had been aware of the true amount it would cost them in property taxes.
The ballot language that appeared before voters contained a major mistake, noting that the continuing levy would cost 45 cents in property tax for every $1,000 of home value. In reality, it will cost taxpayers $4.50 per $1,000.
The township needs more police protection but not at that price, resident James Kendall and others testified.
He was one of 13 people called to testify against the issue.
Only Michael Gallina, superintendent of North Canton City Schools, told Haas he would not have changed his vote, although he was concerned about incorrect information being provided to voters.
Attorneys representing the township called no witnesses Monday.
The levy, which passed by 490 votes out of more than 10,000 cast, allowed the Uniontown Police Department to expand Jan. 1 to serve all areas of Lake Township except Hartville. Before that, the Stark County Sheriff’s Office responded to calls in areas of the township that Uniontown and Hartville police did not cover.
After the election, a group of unhappy residents sued to void the result, citing the incorrect ballot language as misleading.
The bottom line is that voters relied on the ballot language to make up their minds and are now getting billed 10 times more than expected for police protection, said attorney Eric Stecz, who represents the unhappy residents.
“The ballot was wrong and this election needs to be thrown out,” he said in his closing remarks.
Assistant County Prosecutor David Bridenstine, who represents the Lake Township trustees and the county board of elections, said there was plenty of accurate information available to residents before they voted, including fliers and newspaper articles. He said there’s no way of knowing how many people, even upon learning about the error, would still support the levy.
In his closing remarks, attorney Charles Hall, who represents a pro-levy group, said the vote was more than a money issue. It also involved voters agreeing to expand the police coverage area, he said.
Haas said his decision won’t address the ongoing controversy about the expansion of the police department or the cost, but only the legal issue involving the ballot language.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com.