Cincinnati Region Seems Interested by Merger of Local Governments

The editorial we published on Monday has received a lot of attention. Not only has there been a huge and productive discussion in the story’s comment section, but it is generating conversation, all over town, about the idea of consolidating local governments.

The Business Courier looked at our editorial and provided their own perspective on the matter. Cincinnati Blog did the same. Then yesterday I was asked to join Scott Sloan on his morning talk show on 700WLW to further discuss the matter.

Proposed Hamilton County Municipal Mergers

While there has been a wide variety of feedback and opinions, one thing seems to be clear. The way our local governments are currently fragmented does not make sense. It does not make sense with regards to the provision of public services or for the value of taxpayer dollars.

We had already been planning to follow-up on this issue prior to the huge response, but now we feel that the topic really needs to be discussed and pursued even more aggressively.

In the meantime, feel free to listen to the 10 to 12 minute conversation I had with Scott Sloan yesterday. You can listen to it on 700WLW’ website, or you can stream it above.

  • jasomm

    good stuff Randy… Sounded like Scott was trying to edge in some boogieman arguments against this like urban-creep, or falling under the rule of the city mayor… It maybe good to squash the urban-creep illusion when it comes up again by pointing out that most of these areas are already built out, and completely developed. They have been urban for a long time, and annexing them as a neighborhood of the larger entity from which they grew (Cincinnati or otherwise) is a long overdue legal formality for what has already happened geographically…

    Also, seeding administrative control of an area dose nothing to the character of a place as long as the people of that neighborhood take responsibility for the cultivation of that character; either with special business district or neighborhood district designations stipulated within the annexation agreement with the city or township in question.

    • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

      Thanks Jason. I would have loved to share some of these points, but there was only a limited amount of time to discuss the matter. As a result, I really wanted to drive home the point that this fragmentation is a total waste of taxpayer resources and that we really need to consolidate these communities.

      Hopefully the discussion continues with people around town…maybe he’ll even have me back on to discuss it further.

    • jasomm

      Yeah, I hope the discussion snowballs onward…

      There has been discussion of similar consolidations here in NJ. Recently Princeton Township and Princeton Borough merged for similar reasons you state: http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2013/04/princeton_consolidation_pays_o.html (some budget benifits you could site here in future discussions)

      And there has been mild discussion of doing it elsewhere in NJ. There was a spree of borough splitting from townships about 100 years ago when the street car lines were established. But now there are 100s of tiny boroughs that struggle to maintain services and their administrations, and only exist because an influential family run the town (such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fieldsboro,_New_Jersey – check out the pop #). My town (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haddon_Township,_New_Jersey – check out that map) is a fractured township that really should be re-consolidated with its former constituents, but towns are still playing with shared service agreements so far.

    • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

      Right. I don’t think anyone derives their neighborhood identity or values from having a separate fire chief or zoning administrator.

  • http://travisestell.com/ Travis

    The point that Scott Sloan seemed to miss is that if Arlington Heights were to become a part of Cincinnati (for example), those citizens would have the ability to vote for Cincinnati’s mayor, city council, and city issues. He made it sound like they’d be forced into a taxation without representation situation.

    He also kept claiming that these municipalities would lose their identities if they were to merge. But I completely disagree. Individual Cincinnati neighborhoods still have their own character, and residents still have pride for their individual neighborhoods in addition to the city.

  • Robin

    Random comment Randy: Sloany kept referring to you as “Randy from UrbanCincinnati.com” and it really irked me. I just kept thinking about how rude it is to have a guest on and get the name of their site wrong…then it made me wonder if maybe there was in fact an UrbanCincinnati.com and if maybe you were affiliated with it. Just an observation.

    • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

      Yeah, it was annoying. He also mispronounced my last name every time he said it. I didn’t want to waste any time correcting him on those items…instead wanted to make sure I drove home the key points.

    • Matt Jacob

      Really rude for the host to have you on and then mispronounce your last name and say the wrong website name (looks like someone has a crude urbancincinnati.com up and running none-the-less!). Like spitting in your face while you’re talking to him… You handled it well though and hopefully he’ll have you on again to correct himself. I feel like this is an issue that would strike a chord with some of his listeners that are pro-small government and cutting government waste, which you emphasized well despite him leading you towards conspiracy theories. This isn’t a “city conquering suburbs” thing just a “right-sizing local government” thing, which is long overdue in Ohio.

    • Mark Christol

      Randy, YOU mispronounce your name. The letters S I M E S rhyme with dimes, mimes, crimes, chimes, limes, slimes, grimes…

      If you want it to rhyme with limbs, dims, hymns, kims, quims, rims, Tims, brims, Symmes – you need to spell it differently.

      If I told you to pronounce M A R K as Zontar, you would laugh.

      OTOH, getting your URL wrong was totally uncalled for & unprofessional.

  • JacobEPeters

    I think that Scott was confused by a tactical decision in the way you presented the information, especially with the map included. Someone who didn’t read the entire article would see that and think “Oh Randy Simes wants to dissolve suburbs” Whereas if you had shown maps of the suburbs merging with other suburbs, it would have been seen as merging for efficiency instead of the boogieman of the “city” trying to “destroy” the suburbs.

    • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

      I don’t know why there has been any confusion about including the “suburbs”. The places I recommended merging are all inner-ring suburbs, and most people would refer to them as the “city”, not suburbs. In the other comment thread people kept bringing up all sorts of communities that were not even mentioned.

      The reason I brought up places like Blue Ash on the radio show is because I wanted it to be clear that this is not some idea that I believe should be led by the City of Cincinnati, or is only feasible by doing it through the City of Cincinnati. Yes, I do believe that would be the best approach, but if others have better ideas I would not be opposed to that. The point is that there is an obscene number of jurisdictions, many of which have no good reason for existing, that need to just be dissolved and merged with other places.

    • JacobEPeters

      I agree that the confusion comes from people not reading the article. And his continued use of the dissolving suburbs term, and his comments after you signed off from the program, made it seem like he was trying to foment fears that the city wanted to gobble up the independence of surrounding communities. His argument that people would end up paying for things they didn’t want, like his employee taxes paying for amenities in the community he worked in, showed a world view which is disturbingly common, where if you disagree with a project then it is waste. As opposed to the real waste from duplication of services which you highlighted in this article.

  • Steven Fields

    Randy if it happens what would the cities density and square miles be?

  • Fairfax Frank

    Randy,
    Fairfax has no interest in becoming Cincinnati, that’s why we live in Fairfax and not Cincinnati. Your suggestion that our public services are insufficient and inefficient is false. We know our police officers, firefighters, maintenance crew, administration, and elected leadership on a first-name basis. If there is an issue, its responded to swiftly. When it snows, the roads are clear. When there’s a pothole, its fixed. Fairfax has a strong a diverse economic base, made up of mostly high-paying primary industry employers. Fairfax has seen steady economic growth and major public infrastructure improvements, all while maintaining a lean government.

    Your disastrous proposal of annexing Fairfax and the other municipalities would lead to unintended negative results that you and other new urbanists would find offensive. As a professional planner, I’m surprised that you have not considered the famous economist, Charles Tiebout’s, “A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures,” which explains municipal choice and how people will “vote with their feet.” The point is that if your proposal were adopted, more suburban sprawl would be realized by the majority of the newly annexed citizens who simply do not want to live in the City of Cincinnati. The problem with new urbanists like yourself is that you reject the notion that some people want to live differently than you. Some enjoy rural, new suburban, and first suburban lifestyles and they should not be punished as a result. These people do not dislike the City of Cincinnati, they just prefer to live somewhere else.

    It is obtuse and arrogant to suggest, without any financial analysis on your part, that my home and personal investment be depreciated through annexation to become part of a City that my family has no interest in being a part of. Who are you to suggest such a painful personal and financial injury? This is my home, leave Fairfax alone.

    • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

      This proposal is not about changing the way people in Fairfax live their life, or the way in which their community is built. It’s about getting a better deal for the taxpayers. There are fewer than 2,000 residents in Fairfax, which means there are even fewer taxpayers. If you think you’re getting a better bang for your buck as a taxpayer by having duplicative services then I disagree.

      Honestly, I’m not sure how you lose your identity as a resident of Fairfax when most people probably do not even realize that Fairfax isn’t a neighborhood of the City of Cincinnati already.

    • Fairfax Frank

      Randy,

      I was enjoying a peaceful walk with my family through our lovely and peaceful Village this weekend and I thought of you. I thought to myself, “has Randy ever been to Fairfax? Has he ever known anyone from our Village or can he name one distinctive thing about it without going on a search engine? Does he care that he is meddling with and essentially bullying thousands of people and their chosen livelihood?”

      Introduction:

      Randy, let me tell you something about the Village of Fairfax. It is a quiet Village, where many residents never leave, by their own choice. Some, who have left, have returned for retirement. There are many young families of young professionals. There are doctors, engineers, manufacturing managers and directors, plumbers, general contractors, teachers, police officers, and I even know a planner (not to mention one of Plan Cincinnati’s major consultants has an office in Fairfax, McBride Dale Clarion). Though Fairfax may not be well known, I have never heard anyone state that they think Fairfax is a neighborhood of Cincinnati. Fairfax’s built environment and culture is nothing like Cincinnati.

      The Village of Fairfax has a very strong economic base, representing thousands of jobs in the Village. Private and public redevelopment has been strong over the last decade with new primary industry businesses and major retail centers growing the Village’s prominence. Even though most of Fairfax is built out, there have been at least three new single-family homes built and many major renovations of property over the last few years.

      I must respond to your puzzling assumption that the Village of Fairfax’s main revenue source comes from its Citizens through property tax or levies (levies for the Little Miami Joint Fire & Rescue District (3 jurisdictions are members) and the Mariemont School District (serving 4 jurisdictions) were overwhelmingly supported by the taxpayers). You lectured me by stating, “There are fewer than 2,000 residents in Fairfax, which means there are even fewer taxpayers.” What! Fairfax, like most of the local governments on your hit list and the City of Cincinnati, derives the majority of tax revenues through the local earnings tax (or local income tax) from the employees of the businesses that reside in the local government. Fairfax has many diverse primary industry employers who continue to invest in the Village. Municipal choice allows local governments to derive revenue this way or through property tax, such as Indian Hill and Terrace Park, which essentially have little or no businesses and thus no employees to tax. So instead of a one size fits all system like you are proposing, businesses and people have a choice.

      Once again, this is another reason why municipal choice and rejecting your proposal is so important. Businesses, like people, are mobile and will move to the right local government that suits them best. So dunnhumby chose to stay in Cincinnati because they were happy with the services, location, and urban culture. This is great and I’m happy for them and Cincinnati (why can’t you be happy for us). This type of investment not only benefits the City of Cincinnati but the company, employees, and the whole region. Yet, Paycor decided that the City of Cincinnati wasn’t working for them so they moved to the City of Norwood (wait, I thought you said Norwood wasn’t sustainable). However, if it was one big Uni-Gov or if the Norwood location was annexed to Cincinnati, they may have moved their headquarters out of the entire MSA, thus hurting the region.

      So Randy, what do you have against the Village of Fairfax and the other First Suburbs for that matter? Why are you determined to carry out this vendetta with our peaceful and productive Villages and Cities? What have we done to you to create such hatred that you are determined to force us to become something we do not want to be? Please, tonight, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Why do I even care? Why am I determined to harm these people?”

      Randy, if you say that your proposal is “…about getting a better deal for the taxpayers.” I would like to ask, who asked you to do this? Are you an elected Hamilton County Commissioner? Are you even running for office? Was there some outpouring of need and angst from the people of any of these local governments that phoned you and said, “please Randy, you are our only hope!” No Randy, you are but a blogger who seeks to destroy great neighborhoods and autonomous local governments just because they do not fall in line with your urban ideologies.

      Small but Mighty:

      Randy, it appears that one of the main assumptions of your proposal is that just because a local government is small in population or physical size, it is unsustainable. This assertion is without research, fact, and lacking in common sense. Most of these local governments have strong economic bases that afford the citizens scaled safety services. So once again you lectured me stating, “If you think you’re getting a better bang for your buck as a taxpayer by having duplicative services then I disagree.” Yet, what you fail to realize is that the Cincinnati fire, police, maintenance, garbage and other services would have to be stretched to cover our local governments as well. Are you assuming that no additional resources would be needed for the City of Cincinnati safety services that are annually threatened with downsizing? I am not belittling Cincinnati, and I hope these threats to safety services do not continue for their citizens and businesses. Why would our local governments want to give up the superior safety services we already receive? These services are locally paid for and supported.

      Even if there was a scenario where better efficiencies could be realized by a local government, if the citizens reject it, who are you or anyone else to lecture or insult them? A great example can be seen several years ago when the Village of Mariemont had the opportunity to join the Little Miami Joint Fire & Rescue District. They may have realized some efficiencies or maybe not, yet the voters of Mariemont rejected it. Well good for them! It was their democratic decision to maintain local control and they made the decision that was best for them. Did I lecture them? Did I threaten them with annexation? No, Fairfax supports its neighbors. Finally, some local governments provide services not seen everywhere. For example, Mariemont voters continue to support the MariElders senior services program and St. Bernard has Dial-a-Ride, a bus
      service that also supports its seniors and other residents that would disappear if they were annexed.

      Speaking of neighbors, I find it very odd that you left off some key local governments from your hit list that also border the City of Cincinnati and fit your criteria of small populations and physical size. Where are Mariemont, Madeira, Springfield Township, and Wyoming on your list? Should you include Indian Hill? I’m not advocating for these to be on your hit list, but you lack consistency.

      Randy, I am assuming you are probably against imperialism, correct? You probably are offended when one country interferes with another country’s affairs or attempts to conquer it. So Randy, why are you advocating for Cincinnati to interfere with the First Suburbs?

      Your assertion that Cincinnati should annex the First Suburbs just because they are small in population and size, without realizing that services are scaled proportionately and appropriately, is like saying Germany should annex Luxemburg, one of the wealthiest and productive countries in the world. Maybe France should annex Monaco or Malaysia should annex Singapore, other examples of small but mighty independent governments. How about South Africa annexing Lesotho (great analogy to
      Cincinnati/Norwood) or Spain annexing Andorra? Why stop there, why doesn’t New York State annex Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island? Why do we need all those small New England States anyway? Maybe it is silly that Delaware exists, maybe Maryland should annex it. Why for that matter, why do we even need States? Shouldn’t the Federal Government just combined and control them all? Maybe the United Nations should annex all countries and we can have just one, world government? Why, we wouldn’t want local decision making and “duplicative services.” Randy, I’m just applying your logic here, not mine.

      Randy, you never responded to Charles Tiebout’s, “A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures,” which explains municipal choice and how people will “vote with their feet.” Do you really doubt that if your proposal was adopted, that there would be a massive exodus of citizens from these communities to the far-flung suburbs? If you want to prevent sprawl, you should resign your own proposal.

      Examples of Lean and Effective Local Government in Southwest Ohio’s First Suburbs:

      Randy, to demonstrate that most of the local governments on your hit list actually are considering and applying public service efficiencies, I have provided the following list to demonstrate a glimpse of the efficiencies and superior services we are receiving.

      Village of Fairfax:
      - The Village of Fairfax is a member of the Little Miami Joint Fire & Rescue District with the Village of Newtown and parts of Columbia Township.
      - In 2009, voters within the communities covered by the Little Miami Joint Fire & Rescue District passed a Fire Levy approving the building of 2 new stations, one to be located in the Village of Newtown, the other to be located in the Village of Fairfax.
      - Members of SWORRE. The Southwest Ohio Regional Refuse Consortium (SWORRE) is a program where communities bid their trash and recycling services together. It is coordinated through The Center for Local Government.
      - The Village of Fairfax also is efficient by utilizing other shared services coordinated through The Center for Local Government.
      - From the Cities, Villages, and Townships on your hit list, the following local governments efficiently utilize The Center for Local Government’s services, thus demonstrating efficiency and effectiveness to the taxpayers and citizens of their jurisdictions. It should be noted that the City of Cincinnati is not a member.
      -The Village of Fairfax
      -The City of North College Hill
      -The City of St. Bernard
      -The Village of Lockland
      -The City of Reading
      -Amberley Village
      -The Village of Silverton
      -Columbia Township (which you arrogantly identify as “Unincorporated”)

      Miami Township Fire & EMS:
      Serves the following local governments on your hit list:
      -Village of North Bend
      -Village of Cleves
      -Village of Addyston

      This demonstrates that even though these local governments are not members of The Center for Local Government, they are efficiently coordinating in their own way and do not need to rely on a centralized, big government presence to dictate how they provide safety services. Their decision-making is local and accountable.

      The Village of North Bend:
      - The Village of North Bend police services are contracted through the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department in partnership with Miami Township.
      - Contracted Fire & EMS service through Miami Township Fire & EMS as noted above.

      The Village of Arlington Heights:
      - Fire Service through the City of Reading Fire Department

      The Village of Silverton:
      - Member of the Deer Park Silverton Joint Fire District

      Columbia Township:
      - Police service through the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department
      - Members of the Deer Park Silverton Joint Fire District, the Little Miami Joint Fire & Rescue District, and the Golf Manor Fire Department (depending on what part of Columbia Township)

      My examples above mostly deal with shared safety services but many other shared services and efficiencies are realized by these local governments through The Center for Local Government or the International City/County Management Association or State chapters.

      School Districts in the First Suburbs:

      The Local Governments on Your Hit List in the Cincinnati Public Schools District:
      -Columbia Township (your identified area)
      -Village of Golf Manor
      -Village of Silverton
      -Amberley Village

      -City of Cheviot

      When you stated, “Many of these municipalities already are served by Cincinnati Public Schools…” you must have not actually fact checked your own statement. I believe that 5 out of 16 (31%) of the local governments on your hit list that are actually in the Cincinnati Public Schools Districts is a far cry from your “Many…” statement.

      Randy, do you own property? Guess what, I own my house (like 73% of Fairfax residents do) and I have a family just like the thousands of other citizens of the First Suburbs and we reject your assumptions, inaccuracies, and disastrous proposal. Annexing these local governments would only benefit the City of Cincinnati and severely harm those whose property rights would be stolen from them. These are our homes and our lives; stop spewing hate and intolerance for our way of life and leave Fairfax and the other First Suburbs alone!

    • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

      Oh and don’t worry…we have done the financial analysis and will be publishing detailed reports on each of these communities over the coming months.