By Dustin Ensinger
The SWAT teams in the cities of Reynoldsburg and Whitehall could soon join forces.
On June 16, Reynoldsburg City Council’s safety committee heard the first reading on a measure to allow the two entities to merge their tactical forces into one unit.
“It’s just a way for us to combine our resources,” said Reynoldsburg Police Chief Jim O’Neill.
O’Neill said the move has been in the works for more than a year and both departments will benefit from the merger.
About 60 percent of the city’s SWAT team activity requires assistance, typically from Whitehall, O’Neill said.
“It became apparent that we were duplicating a lot of efforts,” he said.
O’Neill believes the two entities will fit nicely together because most of the SWAT team activity in each city involves drug raids.
The city of Gahanna was originally involved in the talks, but pulled out because of philosophical differences.
“A lot of agencies tend to be a little provincial about this,” O’Neill said.
The partnership will be evaluated on a yearly basis.
“We’re certainly not locked into anything,” said O’Neill.
The measure will be considered by council on June 22, under emergency order, which would allow the legislation to become effective immediately.
Code compliance stirs money debate
City officials moved one step closer to beefing up their code enforcement.
Reynoldsburg City Council’s service committee voted to move on a measure to make the city’s two part-time code compliance officers full-time.
The measure, if approved, will add 10 hours per week to each position.
Councilman Cornelius McGrady voted against the measure, saying the city should adopt technology that would make the department more efficient by cutting down on time spent in the office on paperwork.
“I would like to see the two positions remain part-time,” McGrady said.
However, some of his colleagues disagreed.
“We need more feet on the ground,” said Councilwoman Leslie Kelly.
Service Director Nathan Burd said two full-time code compliance officers would allow all areas of the city to be covered on a weekly basis.
City officials stated they hope better code compliance would improve property values and make Reynoldsburg a more attractive destination for prospective homeowners.
Two full-time code enforcement officers would cost the city $113,730 annually, although the cost in 2015 would be significantly reduced.
Nonetheless, City Auditor Richard Harris scolded council for increasing spending without addressing revenue.
“At some point in time, folks, if you are going to do this stuff, the money needs to be discussed,” Harris said, adding the city has about $20 million worth of road projects needed and more than $40 million in capital improvements.
City officials have said Reynoldsburg’s income tax rate of 1.5 percent is inadequate to keep up with its needs. Reynoldsburg is the only city bordering Columbus that has an income tax rate of less than 2 percent.
To address the problem, city officials have considered several options, including the repeal of an income tax credit for city residents who work and pay taxes outside of Reynoldsburg. However, council ultimately decided against the measure.
City residents have rejected four consecutive income tax increase proposals. Council has discussed placing another measure on the ballot, one that would be tied to the creation of a community fitness center.