Residents to decide whether to dissolve Warren County village

With a possible dissolution on the horizon, Village Council moving on 3% admissions tax ordinance

Harveysburg residents upset about a new permit and inspection fees approved in August opted to fight town hall by placing a question on the Nov. 7 general ballot question for the surrender of the village’s corporate powers and dissolve the village which was founded in 1829.

With a population of about 554 residents that includes 443 registered voters, this question could be the most important ballot issues voters will decide.

It’s also not the first time the dissolution question has been raised but it’s the first time it has been on the ballot, according to Brian Sleeth, Warren County elections director. The last time residents launched a petition drive was in 2014, but it never made the November 2015 ballot, according to Board of Elections records.

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. Those dissolutions have prompted a bill approved by the Ohio House of Representatives and is pending in the Ohio Senate on municipal dissolution procedures.

If voters approve the dissolution, the village would cease to exist when the Warren County Board of Elections certifies the vote in mid-November. However, it could take a number of months to wind up the village’s affairs, according to the state auditor’s office. The former village would be absorbed into Massie Twp. as the current village council would work with the state and Warren County Auditor’s Offices to satisfy outstanding obligations and dispose of its assets that would go to Massie Twp. The dissolution is finalized when the final audit report is completed by the state auditor.

All village tax levies would cease and those elected to village offices will not be sworn-in. In addition, the tiny police department, mayor’s court and street services would also be eliminated and taken over by the township or the county.

Although the question of dissolution is on the ballot, Harveysburg Village Council Monday Oct. 23 heard a second reading on a 3% entertainment admissions tax. The tax could generate an additional $150,000 to $180,000 a year for the village mostly from visitors to the Ohio Renaissance Festival, according to Council President Mark Tipton.

He said the original 25-year contract that expired last December featured an annual payment in lieu of an admissions tax. In the last year of the agreement, the payment was for $44,000.

A final reading is scheduled for the Nov. 13 council meeting and would take effect 30 days later -- if the village doesn’t dissolve, according to village Solicitor Chase Kirby.

In addition, the village is in a lawsuit filed in Warren County Common Pleas Court by the owners of the Ohio Renaissance Festival which is seeking to detach from the village and return to Massie Twp. The case has been in mediation in the court.

David Ashcraft of Brimstone & Fire LLC, which operates the festival, said a motion for summary judgment was filed Aug. 29. Kirby said a response is expected to be filed on Oct. 24. If the summary judgement motion is not granted, the case could go to trial in May.

Ashcraft also said they will challenge the admissions tax in court.

The village has the authority to impose up to a 1% income tax without a public vote but has chosen not to impose an income tax on its residents. Other than the festival’s payment to the village, Harveysburg relies on traffic fines through its Mayor’s Court and property taxes for revenues.

At Monday’s council meeting, Fiscal Officer Mary Wilkie said traffic ticket revenue is also down this year due to police staffing issues. Last year, the village generated about $105,000, but has only generated $53,000 so far this year.

Verga said if the festival does detach from the village, it would be “catastrophic.”

Candidates running for Harveysburg mayor and council as well as for the Massie Twp. trustees seat have all said they did not want to see Harveysburg dissolve. However, two of the three trustees did say if voters vote to dissolve the village, the township will do whatever the state requires it to do.

Tax levies expire this year

Harveysburg operates on a pair of five-year tax levies, a 2.5-mill police levy and a 2.5-mill operating levy. Both levies, which expire Dec. 31, 2023, are on the ballot for renewal and are also asking for a 0.5% increase.

The proposed 3-mill renewal and increase operating levy will generate $33,000 a year and will cost a property owner $70 per $100,000 of property valuation, according to the Warren County Auditor’s Office. These funds go for general operations in the village.

The proposed 2.5% police levy renewal and increase will generate about $30,000 a year and will cost a property owner $63 per $100,000 of property valuation, according to the county auditor’s office.

In the November 2022 general election, voters rejected both levy renewal requests for general operating and police services.

Village officials said passage of these levies are critical to providing services to residents.

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