Some still trying to streamline local government

A commission to look into streamlining local governments in Ohio is forming and will begin its work soon.

The 15 members of the Ohio Commission on Local Government Reform and Collaboration – a commission established last summer through the efforts of state representatives Larry Flowers (R-19) and Larry Wolpert (R-23) – have been named. They are:

•Governor’s appointees: Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory; Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez; Cleveland attorney Timothy Downing.

•Speaker of the Ohio House appointees: State Representative Larry Wolpert; Ron Foley, a county commissioner; and Martin Jenkins.

•State Senate President appointees: Robert Roland of Day Ketterer Limited; Tom Weidman of Market Master International of Cincinnati; Columbus City Councilwoman Charleta Tavares.

•Ohio Township Association (OTA) appointee: Michael Cochran, OTA executive director.

•Ohio Municipal League appointee: Dean Depiero, mayor of the city of Parma.

•Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) appointee: Fred Pausch, OSBA director of legislative services.

•Ohio Library Council (OLC) appointee: Lynda Murray, OLC director of government and legal services.

•County Commissioners Association of Ohio appointee: Daniel Troy, Lake County commissioner.

•Ohio Association of Regional Councils appointee: Chester Jordan of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

The initial meeting of the commission is to be called by the governor within 45 days of the appointments being made.

"These appointees are regional thinkers," said Flowers in an interview Nov. 24. "It’s a good balance of local officials and business people. I’m optimistic."

Flowers added he’s working on legislation to establish funding for the commission, but no figure has been set yet.

Commission goals/possibilities

The commission’s purpose is to study ways to restructure, reform, and streamline local government. The commission’s goal will be to come up with recommendations to do so by resolving the duplication of police forces, collaborating services, creating joint fire districts, and weeding out inefficient governments in struggling small towns. It could also lead to revamping school districts by combining small districts and by breaking down large districts to reach an optimal number of students.

Flowers cited Ohio’s more than 1,300 townships, 900-plus municipalities, 615 public school districts, 88 counties, and hundreds of other taxing authorities and questioned the need for so many layers of local government.

According to Flowers, 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 restructured 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 combined.

•Combining school districts would reduce administrative costs and could further save money by merging transportation systems and sharing food services.

The commission is to report its findings and recommendations to the governor, State Senate president, and speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives by July 1, 2010.

Flowers’ comments

"I feel strongly that in these tough economic times we’ve got to make changes to local government," said Flowers. "We need to look at the types of services provided. Maybe it’s time to get back to the basics, the things local government does best like police, fire, water and sewer, and trash pick up. Things like parks and recreation are important, but are they vital? We need to protect the basics."

Flowers added that if a municipal recreation facility is making money he has no problem with it, but he said a local government should not be subsidizing it.

Additionally Flowers said the same thinking applies to school districts.

"The last thing a school district should do is cut busing," he said. "Getting kids to school is a priority. A district should look at eliminating an administrator before cutting busing."

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