Proposed Ohio law would create review process to hold villages accountable

Audit every 10 years would check villages’ service delivery and candidates; any not meeting requirements would face vote about dissolving village

A bill introduced Wednesday in the Ohio House of Representatives would create an automatic process to ensure that villages are providing necessary services to their residents.

State Reps. Adam Mathews, R-Lebanon, and Tom Young, R-Washington Twp., introduced House Bill 311 to create this process. Matthews said the bill awaits its committee assignment and first hearing.

The bill proposes the creation of an automatic process following each 10-year census whereby county budget commissions would audit each of their county’s villages to determine whether each village both provides a majority of defined services due to constituents as well as fielding candidates for elected office.

For those villages that do not meet these requirements, a question of dissolving the village would automatically be forwarded to the county Board of Elections to be presented to voters at the next general election.

“This legislation aims to ensure that villages are prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Mathews said. “This bill will both encourage villages to meet the needs of their constituents and simplify local tax structures, with voters having the final say at the ballot box.”

Mathews said recent stories in the Dayton Daily News about angry Harveysburg residents placing the question to surrender the village’s corporate powers on the Nov. 7 general election piqued his interest and the interest of other state lawmakers. Voters there circulated petitions as a result of a new building fee structure that Village Council voted in last summer.

“It was something that pointed out the need for greater accountability and voter input into the oversight of villages,” Mathews said. “It’s a process where voters will be asked and if villages are not providing these services, it will be up to the voters to decide whether they continue or not.”

Said Young: “It’s important that we enact this type of process in our state that will make sure that our villages are delivering good government for Ohioans.”

Residents of Harveysburg voted to keep the financially struggling village intact with its corporate powers on election day. However, the voters rejected renewing its police and operating levies for the second year in a row. Both levies expire on Dec. 31.

Then, this past Monday, Village Council approved a 3% admissions tax on venues such as the Ohio Renaissance Festival, which is expected to generate between $150,000 and $180,000 a year, according to Council President Mark Tipton.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

The village is currently fighting the Renaissance Festival’s legal request for detachment from Harveysburg, to return the property to Massie Twp. Festival officials have said they will fight any taxes in court as they do not believe they are getting adequate services from the village.

Mathews said one concern small villages have is the loss of their identity if they become an unincorporated entity. He said these unincorporated villages are still geographic areas without being incorporated, as he cited places like Red Lion south of Springboro, and Genntown north of Lebanon.

“Unincorporated areas won’t lose their identities but you don’t need to tax people to have a sense of place,” he said. “I think Ohio has too many taxing jurisdictions and it hurts people’s pocketbooks because it decreases the ability to hold those making decisions accountable. Simplifying government and taxing structures would go a long way in solving this problem.”

Warren County Auditor Matt Nolan said there are too many government jurisdictions in Ohio. Nolan said he and Mathews have discussed this issue a number of times over the past few years, and added he supports the proposed bill as a way to get rid of some villages that are not providing services to their constituents.

“This bill would streamline government,” Nolan said. “It makes us have better use of taxpayer dollars and it makes Ohio more efficient.”

Dissolving a municipality doesn’t happen very often. According to Marc Kovac of the Ohio Auditor of State’s office, there have been 13 surrenders of corporate power since 2007. Two of the more recent dissolutions were the villages of Amelia and Newtonville in Clermont County in 2019.

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