Streamlined local government sought

State Representative Larry Flowers thinks streamlining local government will be good for Ohio.

Speaking at Groveport Village Council’s May 19 committee of the whole meeting, 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 asked, "Do we need all these different levels of local government?"

Flowers (R-19) and State Representative Larry Wolpert (R-23) have introduced House Bill (HB) 521 designed to study ways to restructure, reform, and streamline local government. The legislation, which is now in committee and has had five hearings, could lead to dramatic changes in the face of local government.

HB 521 proposes creating a commission to develop recommendations on 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 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 consolidating small districts and by breaking down large districts to reach an optimal number of students.

Groveport Law Director Kevin Shannon noted the predominant belief of his colleagues is that HB 521, along with the curtailing of mayor’s courts and new annexation rules, appears to be part of a "full frontal assault" by state lawmakers on home rule in Ohio.

"I’m a local government guy," replied Flowers, who served many years as the Madison Township fire chief. "I came out of home rule. But there are some things you can’t do over 900 different ways."

Flowers said streamlining local government could help the state’s economy and used Indiana as an example of how such efforts help businesses.

"A businessman can go to Indianapolis and in one day get what he needs to start a business in Indiana. In Ohio it would take him six months and that’s if he had connections," said Flowers. "If a company is a statewide operation, it’s challenging for them to have to deal with more than 900 possible sets of rules."

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

"Where I live I pay local taxes for three different law enforcement agencies," said Flowers, who resides in Canal Winchester. "There’s one fire department, could there be one police department?"

Flowers noted the commission set up by HB 521 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 combined.

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

Flowers acknowledged opposition to HB 521 has come from the Ohio Township Association and Ohio Municipal League.

He noted that making changes to how local government works, especially the schools, will generate a passionate response from some.

"It’s an emotional issue," said Flowers. "But we have to move beyond that and help the taxpayers."

Flowers said he was unsure whether HB 521 had enough votes to make it out of committee at the Ohio Statehouse, but he added the measure could be attached as an amendment to the state’s capital bill.

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