ELYRIA — The county’s opioid epidemic has Lorain County commissioners considering whether to ask voters to increase a property tax levy devoted to the Lorain County Drug Task Force.
The levy, which generates about $492,000 annually for the agency, was first passed in 2013 before the heroin and fentanyl crisis reached its current proportions.
The commissioners Wednesday voted to ask county Auditor Craig Snodgrass to prepare various scenarios for handling the upcoming expiration of the 0.08-mill levy, including renewing it at its current rate or a replacement levy that would increase the amount of money it brings in each year.
County Administrator Jim Cordes said it’s also possible the levy might be raised as high as 0.09 mills. Snodgrass’ office will determine how much money the levies would generate if they change.
Cordes also teased an upcoming announcement from the Drug Task Force about how they plan to “rain terror” down on drug dealers.
Drug Task Force Commander Dennis Cavanaugh said Cordes was likely referring to a collaborative effort between local law enforcement and federal agencies in the region.
He said the efforts involving deputizing local officers to operate in a wider jurisdiction under the effort led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He also said there’s grant money available to help cover overtime for officers working to combat opioid dealers.
“There’s so many overdose deaths, we need to put more manpower hours into it,” Cavanaugh said.
Last year, county Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans handled 132 fatal overdoses and that number is widely expected to be higher this year.
County officials also have mulled asking voters to approve a levy to provide additional funding for the Lorain County Crime Lab, which tests drugs seized by police during investigations.
Voters shot down a proposed 0.16-mill levy last year that would have raised about $1 million annually to increase the budgets of the Crime Lab and Evans’ office.
Voters also rejected a proposed 1.2-mill levy that would have brought in around $7.8 million per year for the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County, which planned to use the funds to improve treatment options in the county. The board’s leadership is considering making another attempt to convince voters of its need for additional funding.
The commissioners also are looking into how they should handle a five-year 911 levy that was last approved by voters in 2012.
In that election, voters approved increasing the levy amount from 0.35 mills to 0.5 mills, generating roughly $3.3 million per year to operate the county’s 911 Call Center, which also now handles dispatching for the county Sheriff’s Office and several local fire departments.
The commissioners asked Snodgrass to send them figures showing what a simple renewal at 0.5 mills would look like as well as a 0.5-mill replacement that would increase the amount of money brought in per year. They also asked for numbers on increasing the levy to 0.55 mills and 0.6 mills.
The commissioner will vote later this year on which version of the levy to put before voters in November.
The county is in the process of renovating a building on Burns Road near Lorain County Community College to replace the Call Center’s home at the county Records Center in Elyria. The project was originally estimated to cost about $6 million, although Cordes said he hopes the final amount comes in closer to $4 million.
Cordes said the county also needs to continue to upgrade its towers and other communications gear to make sure law enforcement and firefighters can communicate anywhere in the county.
“We need to make sure every square inch of this county we never lose contact with our safety forces,” Cordes said. “It’s just not acceptable.”