Dayton annexed land in Greene County primarily to block a proposal to merge the city and Montgomery County and prevent what Mayor Nan Whaley called a “hostile takeover.”
Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley, who spearheaded the pro-merger effort in an unofficial capacity, said he cannot fault the mayor for finding a way to solidify the city’s opposition.
“The mayor’s smart,” he said.
Dayton Together — the group that worked on a charter that would combine the city and county governments — withdrew the proposal Tuesday night.
Dayton Together leaders said the plan became unfeasible after the city’s annexation of 25 acres in Bath Twp. in Greene County. Merging cities that cross multiple county boundaries is extremely difficult under state law.
Whaley said the city annexed the land to protect its water system and because it would impede consolidation efforts.
“This would allow Dayton to be treated like the other cities like Huber Heights, Kettering and Centerville,” Whaley said, citing communities that span more than one county and were not included in the merger plan.
The Dayton City Commission on March 23 approved a petition to annex 25 acres between Ohio Route 4 and the Huffman Dam in Greene County, land it has owned since 1926. Greene County Commissioners granted the annexation petition in late April.
A city that spans multiple counties would have to detach itself from the areas located in other counties to be part of a county merger, according to research from the Greater Ohio Policy Center.
Detachment would require property owners in the proposed detachment area to lead a petition drive or put a measure on the ballot.
The annexation purposefully created a roadblock protecting Dayton, elected leaders said.
“It gives us better control of the land, but it wouldn’t have come up without the merger deal,” said Commissioner Matt Joseph.
Dayton Together officials had discussed expanding the consolidation plan beyond simply the city and county to include more communities, such as Trotwood, Riverside and Jefferson and Harrison Twp.
But the plan never targeted Kettering, Centerville or Huber Heights because they straddle multiple counties, officials said.
Opponents said they hope Dayton Together ultimately would have decided against pursuing a ballot initiative after the community voiced loud and angry opposition.
Two town hall meetings organized by opponents of the merger drew hundreds of visitors and included elected officials, the chairs of the local political parties and community leaders.
“I think the fact that the city goes over into Greene County hastened their decision, but I hope they would have come to the same conclusion that this particular plan was a bad idea,” said Mark Owens, chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Party.
Whaley said Dayton Together developed the plan without transparency and public input.
City leaders felt obligated to educate the public about a proposal that threatened Dayton’s ability for self-governance and could disenfranchise voters, especially minorities, Whaley said.
Dayton Together planned to take a charter document outlining how to consolidate jurisdictions to the ballot, possibly next year.
But consolidation makes no sense without Dayton, because that gets rid of opportunities for cost savings through service consolidation, said Phil Parker, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, who is an officer with Dayton Together.
The efforts were not about taking over municipal government or seizing their assets, Parker said.
The group wanted to explore ways to use taxpayer dollars more efficiently and find savings that could be reinvested into the community, he said.
Parker said the data indicate that local governments can do a better job of using public dollars.
The number of local jurisdictions competing against each other for development and residents is harming the region, he said.
Dayton Together hired accounting firm Brady Ware & Company to look at local government expenditures.
Using audit reports, the firm estimated that local governments spend about $2,537 per capita on residents in Montgomery County.
Data produced by a group called Better Together in St. Louis estimated that per capita spending in the Missouri community is about $1,810.
For Indianapolis-Marion County, per capita government expenditures were $1,208. For Louisville- Jefferson County, they were $1,095. Those communities merged to create metro-type governments.
U.S. District Judge Walter Rice said Dayton Together’s work was motivated by the desire to improve government at a critical time when economic and demographic factors are working against the Dayton region.
Rice said he hopes withdrawing the proposal will ease tensions to the point where citizens and public officials can have a badly needed conversation about how to better position the region for the future.
“The converation must continue,” he said.