Franklin Township Board of Trustees found that they have limited options to prevent the city of Columbus or Franklin County from annexing Franklin Township homes and businesses to their jurisdictions at the July 24 Franklin Township. These annexations are becoming an issue with township officials because they result in a smaller tax base for the township, making the tight township budget even tighter.
Donald Brosius, attorney at law for Franklin Township, explained that since new annexation laws were enacted on March 27, 2004, the ability of townships to respond to annexation requests has narrowed considerably.
"When I reviewed it, my thought was ‘It just made annexations a whole lot easier,’" said Brosius.
One of the big problems with the new law Brosius saw is the lack of ability for townships to appeal decisions by the county commissioners. If the commissioners decide to hold a meeting on an annexation, rather than a hearing, townships have no recourse to oppose the annexation.
"I spoke at the Ohio Township Conference and I’ll never forget this. I said, ‘Be careful what you wish for, this bill is not a bill to stop annexations because in a large sense it made annexations a whole lot easier,’ and I explained why. I remember one trustee stood up and raised his hand and said, ‘We got sold out!’"
A few criteria under the 2004 law is that 100 percent of the owners must sign a petition requesting their property is annexed. Municipalities cannot create a "doughnut" effect by annexing all the property surrounding the township or create a road issue by dividing a road through an annexation.
The agent for the property owner, most likely an attorney, will need to alert the township within five days of filing the annexation request with the county. The township has 25 days to respond to the petition, but Brosius said in most cases there is not a lot that can be done.
Brosius said the laws previously were not benefiting townships either. The legal standard was that if the majority of the property owners consented to sign the petition to be annexed to another municipality, and if the "general good of the territory would be served," then it should be granted.
The township’s alternative at that point was to file an injunction in the courts, which were not granted in most cases.
"Ohio Supreme Court came up with this under the old law, ‘When you have 100 percent of the owners consenting to the annexation, then unless you can prove that the city can provide no service, it’s what the owners want. Their wishes will be respected,’" said Brosius.
Franklin Township Fire Chief Richard Howard said part of the issue is that property owners that do not want to leave are being given ultimatums because the Environmental Protection Agency is condemning their sewer system and the owner has to tap into Columbus water and sewer. They are then told that they have to annex to Columbus in order to get water and sewer services.
"What’s going to happen is the people are going to go to Columbus and they’re going to say we need water and sewer and Columbus will say ‘That’s fine but you need to annex.’ They’re going to sign the petition to annex," said Brosius.
Brosius said that because Franklin Township has a "fire district" rather than a "fire department," once the properties are annexed, the township loses that tax base.
Legally, by simply changing from district to department, the law would allow Franklin Township to keep the taxes on properties that get annexed, according to Brosius.
The catch is that the change from district to department involves not only a name change, but the past tax funding would have to be voted on again.
"You have the ability to create a township-wide fire levy or a township-wide police levy. You can go from a district to a department. This is the issue; if you did that, it would have to be done to the entire township, which would include the village of Valleyview, which means everybody would have to vote," said Brosius.
Tim Guyton, Chairman of Franklin Township, said he did not believe this action would work because Valleyview residents are not receptive to the idea.
"It’s our belief that as a block, it would go down, so our levy would go down.
Hypothetically speaking, there were be 200 people sitting at home saying, ‘I don’t want to pay that much,’ so just those nays would be enough to negate our yays to the point that the levy would not go through," said Guyton.
Howard said Valleyview has to be included because by law, Valleyview technically is part of the Franklin Township, so they are a voting block and there are certain township taxes they pay and the township reimburses them by doing work like brush and leaf pickup and road work.
Brosius said the board of trustees should immediately send all annexation requests to him in the future for review and to make sure the township businesses are happy with the services they are receiving.
"The thing to do to be proactive is to talk to the property owners ahead of time," said Brosius. "Ask them, ‘Is there anything we can do?’"