Reynoldsburg, Truro Township
Idea of merging to save money gets mixed reactions
As state funding becomes even more scarce, local governments such as Reynoldsburg are having to be more creative in finding ways to provide the same level of services.
Ohio's current two-year budget makes it easier than ever for townships and municipalities to merge or share services to save money. It contains provisions that streamline the process for merging two or more townships, or a municipality and a township.
Reynoldsburg City Council President Doug Joseph believes now's the time for "serious discussions" about a possible merger with Truro Township, something he says would reduce administrative overhead.
"I know it's not popular with politicians, but government is here to serve the people," Joseph said. "I think we owe it to the residents to at least discuss it.
"At a time when dollars are tight at the local level, do we really need two sets of administrations to handle services which could be done by one?"
Reynoldsburg and Truro Township have transformed over the years to where the city now encompasses at least 85 percent of the township. Trustees primarily oversee a 44-member fire division that provides services to 38,000 residents in Reynoldsburg, Brice and Truro Township.
In November, trustees will seek a 3.9-mill fire levy. The fire division's budget totals $6.8 million, compared to the township's overall 2012 spending plan of nearly $8 million.
Truro Township's administrative budget is roughly $300,000, according to township Administrator Jason Nicodemus.
Critics have questioned whether the savings produced from a merger would be worth the divisiveness.
Trustee Pat Mahaffey said he's all for discussing shared services, but questions whether residents would support a merger or "dissolving" the township and "taking over the fire department."
"I think (Joseph's) whole thing is that he wants to get his hands on our budget and put more money into the city," Mahaffey said. "You've still got to pay for the fire department."
The language added to the current two-year state budget simplifies the merger process by reducing the number of steps and creating a default format that could be used to get a new entity up and running.
Joseph said any revenues the township currently receives would roll over to the city and the fire department would essentially be a name change.
"I think the city could easily manage a fire department," he said. "But voters should be presented with the best options and be able to weigh in on this. We're at a place now where we need to provide the same service, but with less cost."
Shortly after state lawmakers approved the current two-year budget in June 2011, Susan Cave, executive director of the Ohio Municipal League, told The Columbus Dispatch that she didn't foresee a rush toward consolidation.
Cave could not immediately be reached for comment to see if that has changed.
The village of Pataskala merged with surrounding Lima Township in 1996 with the goal of keeping Columbus from invading.
"It's time," Councilman Chris Long said of discussing a merger of the city and township. "But the biggest thing that needs to be considered is how everything transfers from the township taxes. How would that be handled?"
City Auditor Richard Harris said the process is not a simple matter of council passing ordinances.
"The taxes being collected are committed to Truro Township," he said. "You would have to go back to the ballot. You would have to reauthorize them to go to the city. Secondly, that money would only be used for the fire department."
Currently, four fire departments -- Truro, Jefferson, Violet and West Licking -- serve Reynoldsburg residents.
Councilman Mel Clemens, who served 16 years as a Truro Township trustee, sees no reason to merge.
"This would take years to accomplish and we've got our own problems to take care of," he said. "I don't think it would ever happen.
"You're talking about an extra $300,000 in savings and it's something that would probably be wasted any way. We don't have any problems with the way things are right now so why create one?"
The Ohio Township Association signed off on the budget language with the idea that decisions would be made at the local level by residents and trustees.
State Auditor Dave Yost supports the streamlined process. He has said cuts to local government funds would put nearly 30 percent of the state's 5,600 government entities at risk of falling into fiscal watch or fiscal emergency.