Flowers bill would streamline local government

State Representative Larry Flowers (R-19) and State Representative Larry Wolpert (R-23) have introduced a bill designed to study ways to consolidate and streamline local government.

The legislation, if approved, could lead to dramatic changes in the face of local government

Citing the more than 1,300 townships, 900 plus municipalities, over 600 school districts, 88 counties, and hundreds of other taxing authorities in Ohio, Flowers asked, "Do we need all these different levels of local government? There’s a lot of duplication and inefficiencies. If we correct them I believe we can save a lot of tax money."

Flowers’ and Wolpert’s House Bill (HB) 521 proposes creating a commission to develop recommendations on reforming and restructuring local governments and to look for ways to make government more efficient. The commission would be made up of nine members – three appointed by the State Senate president; three named by Speaker of the Ohio House; and three appointed by the governor. The bill proposes the commission report its findings to state officials by July 1, 2010.

Flowers said the idea is to streamline local government by eliminating duplicate police forces, creating joint fire districts, and weeding out inefficient governments in struggling small towns. It could also lead to revamping school districts by consolidating small districts and by breaking down large districts to reach an optimal number of students. He said such actions would reduce administrative costs.

"We need less chiefs and more Indians," said Flowers. "We can’t keep doing things the same way."

He said consolidations could provide local tax relief by creating new public service models that remove layers of government.

Flowers noted that the commission could make several different recommendations such as:

•Tiny villages could be absorbed into a larger township government, such as when the village of New Rome’s government was dismantled and Prairie Township became the presiding entity.

•Some townships could be eliminated and their services taken over by the county.

•Joint fire districts could be created by combining several fire departments in an area to reduce administrative costs and to share equipment. Flowers, who was Madison Township fire chief for many years, said Southeast area fire departments from Madison, Truro, and Hamilton townships could form one such joint fire district.

"Southeast Franklin County is ripe for a joint fire district," said Flowers.

•Duplicate police forces could be eliminated or consolidated. Flowers noted that in Madison Township alone Groveport has its own police department, Madison Township has a police force, and Canal Winchester contracts with the Fairfield County Sheriff.

•Consolidating schools would reduce administrative costs and could save money by merging transportation systems.

Flowers added the state could try to create incentives in the form of grants to reward communities that consolidate services.

Flowers acknowledged he expects opposition to HB 521 from the Ohio Township Association and Ohio Municipal League. He also noted that making changes to how local government works, especially the schools, will generate an emotional response from some.

"But it’s time to look for a better way," said Flowers. "I’m being open minded about this. It’s time to study this."

State legislators are now reviewing and considering HB 521.

Flowers said the state’s local government committee meets each Thursday at 8:30 a.m. at the Statehouse and the public is invited to provide input.

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