Is there too much 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."

Local reactions

•"I understand what he’s (Flowers) trying to do, but I’m not really in favor of transferring anything we do to the county. It sounds good on paper, but logistically it seems virtually impossible," said Madison Township Trustee Susan Brobst. "I can’t see any of the local governments willingly giving up local control. We all want what’s best for our communities. Locally we have a better understanding of what our needs are. The county and state need to do their jobs and we will do our job."

•"I think it (HB 521) is absolutely ludicrous. It would be devastating," said Violet Township Trustee Terry Dunlap. "We have 103 miles of road we take care of in the township. How would the county take care of it? The county can’t keep it plowed and salted in the winter."

He added that townships and towns grow because they are better suited to effectively serve a local population.

"Townships and towns provide services better. They are more responsive. We can keep six inch potholes from becoming six foot potholes. That’s what they’d become if the state or county were tending the roads," stated Dunlap.

Dunlap said the state needs only to "look in the mirror" to see where the problems in government are and that the state should first look to itself to make cuts.

"Why do we have the State Highway Patrol? County sheriffs could handle the highways, so cut the State Highway Patrol. Why do we have so many state representatives and senators?" observed Dunlap. "Cut the state bureaucracy. Cut the Ohio Department of Transportation back and let the counties handle the state roads in their jurisdiction. Reduce the wages at the top echelon of state government. Eliminate the unfunded state mandates that are crippling the schools."

•"I don’t think much of it," said Groveport Mayor Lance Westcamp when asked about HB 521. "Being a small government doesn’t mean it’s a bad government."

Westcamp also said he does not want to see the Groveport Police Department consolidated with Madison Township or eliminated.

"I’m proud of our police department and wouldn’t think of changing it," said Westcamp. "Groveport is growing. We’ll be a city soon. We need our police department."

•Pickerington Mayor Mitch O’Brien said the city’s lawyers are reviewing HB 521.

"I’m cautiously optimistic that Pickerington won’t be affected (by this bill)," said O’Brien, who added that, as the bill proceeds and if the state commission is established, city officials will monitor the situation and respond accordingly.

•Canal Winchester Mayor Mike Ebert could not be reached for comment.

What’s next?

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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