BARBERTON — The city will shutter its seven-cell jail as part of a plan to close a projected $4 million gap in this year's budget — a decision that police union leaders say is a mistake.
"We're just extremely worried about the safety of our community," Sgt. Robert Lynn, who represents supervisors with the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said Friday.
He and officer Rob Mingle, who represents the patrol officers with the union, sat down with the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com to talk about the impact of upcoming layoffs on the police department. Mayor Bill Judge issued layoff notices this week to 26 workers, including seven part-time reserve officers and 11 part-time jail workers, meaning the jail, located in the basement of the municipal building, will have to close.
The mayor has said that the city could see cuts in services as well as layoffs, but previously had not mentioned the jail as one of the cutbacks.
Lynn and Mingle said the jail serves as a major deterrent to crime in the community.
Barberton Municipal Court Judges David Fish and Todd McKenney also are concerned about the jail closure.
“We are dependent on the Barberton Jail as a court for at least the short-term commitment of violent misdemeanants,” Fish said Friday. “Without that, we have nowhere to turn.”
Fish said the Summit County Jail, which has its own budget constraints and limited space, won’t accept people charged with violent misdemeanors, such as domestic violence or aggravated menacing.
Copley Township, New Franklin and Norton also will lose out, because they sometimes house offenders in Barberton.
Last year, 1,461 people were booked into the jail, Lynn and Mingle said.
The jail is slated to close Feb. 14 when the layoffs for reserve officers and jail workers take effect.
"I don't want to lose the jail," Judge said Friday. "It's an asset."
But he said the city has to make cuts because of losing out on local government fund revenue from the state and the upcoming loss of income tax revenue when Babcock & Wilcox and its 600 workers relocate to Akron this year.
He said he asked the unions to agree to financial concessions to avoid layoffs, but they refused. He added that he is still willing to negotiate with the unions and find an alternative to closing the jail, which can hold people for up to 12 days.
Lynn and Mingle said the mayor asked for about $309,000 in concessions, including 15 furlough days, giving back 2 percent raises and doing away with a uniform allowance. It amounted to about a month's salary for each officer, they said.
The latest cuts coming from police total about $472,000, they said.
They said their members — there are 39 total officers, not including the chief — aren't interested in agreeing to concessions now. They noted that both unions will enter negotiations soon on new three-year contracts. Their current contracts conclude at the end of this year.
Lynn and Mingle said the layoffs will affect how officers do their jobs. Now, jailers handle processing offenders brought to the station. With no jail workers, officers will spend more time at the station and less time out in the community, they said.
They also are concerned about having to give some offenders a summons to court instead of putting them in jail.
"What do I tell this victim, especially of domestic violence?" Lynn asked. "What do I do when I tell her I can't hold him for a day to keep you safe? I can just tell him to go a friend's house or take him to a friend's house.
"We're still going to answer our calls and do the best we can," he added. "We are completely committed to protect this community. We have a great community here. We love our citizens. But our hands are going to be so tied."
Fish is hoping the city and police union can reach an agreement that will keep the Barberton jail open.
“We’ll be happy to be part of any solution someone was to propose,” said Fish, who noted that the court has always had a good working relationship with the city and police.
Fish returned Friday from a judicial conference in Columbus where he said he heard from judges across the state who live in areas where jail space is an issue.
“We focus on alternative sentencing where we try to get people into counseling and other types of situations,” Fish said. “There are situations where people need to be in jail.”
Lynn and Mingle said there also is a question of whether the city would be able to reopen the jail, which has been in operation for as long as anyone can remember, once it's closed. The facility, which has been at the municipal building since 1952, is now grandfathered under older jail standards because of its age and would not pass inspections using today's guidelines, they said.
The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 329 also has questioned the impact of layoffs on fire services, saying the city may end up paying more in overtime. Four full-time firefighters are set to be laid off.
The firefighters' concerns were featured in a story Wednesday. The fire union also issued a lengthy statement Thursday night on its Facebook page.
The fire union has recommended that the Barberton Community Foundation provide a bailout for the city. The police unions agreed, saying the foundation was set up using taxpayer money from the sale of the community hospital.
The foundation has said that, under its charter, it cannot provide money for operations or salaries. The unions suggested that the rules be rewritten to help out the city.
Meanwhile, Judge said he has worked out a deal with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union to transfer a full-time worker within the city to keep her job. Only five full-time employees received layoff notices, with four of them being firefighters.
Under the union contracts, the city is required to lay off part-time workers before full-time employees. The other workers affected are part time or seasonal.
The mayor hasn't presented the final 2019 budget to the city council yet. The city is operating on a temporary budget and has until the end of March to approve a permanent spending plan.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ. Beacon Journal reporter Stephanie Warsmith contributed to this story.