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, 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 changes could come in several ways:
•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."
"I think it stinks," said Jackson Township Chairman Dave Burris.
Burris said the state representatives are trying to mirror legislation in Indiana. He said both Wolpert and Flowers are ready to leave office and he does not know what they are trying to accomplish by moving forward with this.
"It just amazes me," he said. "Wolpert has never been in favor of townships but Flowers was a township man. I don’t know what his beef is."
Burris said townships give people a choice and people usually like the services they receive from the township. He explained that when the area got hit with the blizzard-like conditions this winter, the streets in Jackson Township were cleared in a matter of hours.
"The county cannot handle what they’ve got," said Burris. "They could not take on township roads as well."
Pleasant Township Chairman Keith Goldhardt agrees with Burris.
"I don’t think this will fly," said Goldhardt. "Township and village government is the first line of government to the people."
He said if something is bothering a township resident, they can just call a trustee.
"People deserve that."
Goldhardt is also president of the Franklin County Township Association. He said that townships in the county do a wonderful job and the state representatives just want to "get their hands on local government funds."
"I was taken back when I saw their solution to try to save money. They should start looking in their own backyard," Goldhardt commented.
The mayors of the Village of Harrisburg and the Village of Urbancrest could not be reached for comment.
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.