HB 521 studies consolidation for local governments

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 re-structuring 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 ap-pointed 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 ser-vice 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.

• Duplicate police forces could be eliminated or consolidated.

• 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.”

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