Sunday, October 5, 2008

No Merger: The New Suburban Politics

Centerville has been pushing merger with adjacent unincorporated Washington Township and is proposing a merger commission as a stepping stone. The question on the merger commission is before the voters as Issue 48.

In previous similar cases the citizens of townships actively sought to be annexed or merged: Mad River Township with Riverside, Madison Township with Trotwood, and Randolph Township with Clayton. In these cases the townships feared annexation by either Dayton or a neighboring incorporated area (Englewood). What makes this controversy different from recent suburban political battles is that the citizens of the township don’t want t merger, and have organized a group against it: Washington Township Forever

Apparently Centerville can’t afford municipal government without raising taxes, due to maintaining duplicate services (the city runs parks and recreation facilities independent of the local parks district) and labor costs (such as maintaining a separate police department and sanitation department), which raises the question of cutting services to remain within revenue.

Instead Centerville tried to expand the tax base by annexation, leading to a big zoning and jurisdictional fight when it attempted to annex into Greene County (Sugarcreek Township) to grab the site of a proposed mixed-use development (generating more city income tax).

The new attempt to grow the tax base is to merge Washington Township into Centerville. The attempt isn’t convincing as it means an additional layer of tax (city income tax) with a minor benefit in services.

Which brings up the question of why incorporation is even necessary. The township has police service from the county sheriff and maintains nearly the same level of service as the city of Centerville, but without the additional tax burden. Presumably Centerville residents would save some tax money if they de-incorporate, turning police protection to the county sheriff, public works to the township and parks & recreation facilities to the park district.

And the fewer incorporated suburban areas there are the more likely are regional approaches to shared services. Already the county sheriff could be seen as a “metro police department” as it provides law enforcement across multiple townships. One can see a similar approach to public works.

Paradoxically it seems merger would be a step away from regionalism and a victory for suburban self-aggrandizement.

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