EDITORIAL: It’s Time to Consolidate Local Governments in Hamilton County

For years local officials and civic boosters have been calling for the merging of local government operations. A core issue that has not been discussed, however, is that of merging local municipalities entirely.

In Hamilton County there are 49 different political jurisdictions ranging from a few hundred people to approximately 300,000 in the City of Cincinnati. That is approximately 16,334 people per political jurisdiction. Certainly we are not serving our residents in the most effective and prudent way when there is so much fragmentation.

Many of the smaller communities, with just a few hundred a couple thousand people, have recently fallen on more difficult financial times. Both Arlington Heights (population 745) and Elmwood Place (population 2,188) have been embroiled in scandals revolving around their use of speed traps and cameras to generate revenue.

Proposed Hamilton County Municipal Mergers
Smaller jurisdictions throughout Hamilton County should be merged with larger ones like Cincinnati and Cleves. Map by Nate Wessel for UrbanCincy.

In Arlington Heights the scandal revolved around the stealing of $260,000 of public money, and in Elmwood Place it involved an abusive use of traffic cameras to issue tickets.

“The Village Council needs to seriously consider dissolving the Village of Arlington Heights,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters proclaimed after the two theft indictments. “The Village seems to be nothing more than a speed trap with no checks and balances…Consolidating with another political subdivision is long overdue.”

In other cases, like Silverton (population 4,788), the jurisdictions have become so small that they can no longer be considered a city.

There are certainly some efficiencies to be gained by merging local police and fire departments in smaller communities throughout our region, but merging entire municipalities will reap much bigger savings.

In Hamilton County, some 15 communities could be easily folded into the City of Cincinnati. Many of these municipalities already are served by Cincinnati Public Schools and are either adjacent to, or completely surrounded by, Cincinnati’s city limits.

Most of these 15 municipalities have less than 5,000 people, and would surely benefit from the much broader public services offered by the City of Cincinnati. Larger cities like Norwood (population 19,207), Reading (population 10,385), and Cheviot (population 8,375) would also see improved public services and improved financial stability.

Furthermore, it would put an end to the many economic development incentive battles that are waged across these arbitrary political boundaries.

Each of the 15 communities could continue to maintain its identity by becoming a new official neighborhood within the City of Cincinnati, which would see its population grow by more than 77,000 people as a result, as they essentially function now in the region’s urban fabric. This would allow these places to stay true to their roots while also gaining more political clout, improved financial stability and public services, and expanded opportunities within a much larger political jurisdiction.

State budget cuts are continuing to cut into the core of local public operations, and at some point each of these communities will reach a point where “belt-tightening” will no longer achieve the savings needed to remain financially productive.

Plus, if you community’s sole purpose for maintaining its separate political jurisdiction is to maintain those positions, then it might be time to rethink your reason for being.

  • The_Incident

    Hear, hear!

  • Ben Brennan

    Good call, I think the optimal path would be for the city and the county to become one entity, but I imagine the citizens of places like Delhi and Green Township would become completely unhinged.

    Also – ironically Cleves/North Bend used the threat of folding Three Rivers school district into Cincinnati Public Schools as a way to get a levy passed.

    • matimal

      Exactly, Ben. Open attempts to combine local government services will bring an avalanche of hate. The residents of Norwood may not look like they have much to lose, but that have one thing about which they are enormously proud….they aren’t Cincinnatians! They will never give that up. NEVER. It will take a long time to overcome such bitter and intense hatreds and fears.

    • Norwood has continuously walked a fine line of being fiscally justifiable or not. The same is true for many of the places listed in this post. I understand that there may be personal desires to maintain certain identities, but do arbitrary political boundaries really define one’s identity? And at what point do we say enough is enough and put an end to these political jurisdictions that sap taxpayer resources for no added benefit?

    • John Yung

      Norwood, formerly on the State’s fiscal watch list, has an economy that was highly dependent on industries like GM and US Playing Card. It now has an economy highly dependent on the auto-centric Rookwood developments at the edge of the city limits. As these developments age, expect Norwood to be in the same place it was in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s…back on the fiscal watch list.

    • matimal

      And still, it exists.They are willing to pay the ‘price’ of financial instability to keep from being part of Cincinnati. Amazingly, arbitrary political boundaries can take on enormous importance for many; especially in hard times where people see themselves fighting for every political, economic, and social advantage they can.

    • John Yung

      Yeah and that might be fine for the die-hard Norwood residents who do exist but as long as the city continues to struggle it will be passed by as residents choose to move to the urban core and other revitalizing neighborhood business districts which will ultimately help propel Cincinnati forward.

    • Marcie Brady

      I haven’t seen must “revitalizing” going on except… oh yeah, Norwood.

    • Walnut Hills, Northside, Over-the-Rhine, Avondale, Columbia Tusculum, Downtown, Clifton Heights, East End, Oakley, College Hill and Corryville have all seen millions of dollars worth of private investment pumped into their neighborhoods in recent years. East Price Hill is also seeing significant investment, but not quite as much as the other neighborhoods.

    • I think what you’re saying is somewhat of a stretch. While some residents may hold on to this idea that they don’t want to be part of the City of Cincinnati, I think the stronger reason for its continued existence is political leadership. Because guess what, if you merge the two cities then you eliminate a bunch of politician’s jobs…and why would they vote to cut off their own paycheck? That’s the real hurdle here.

    • matimal

      But those politicians are elected. Why do Norwooders voter for them? What do they think is in it for them?

    • Marcie Brady

      Norwood currently pays 2% income tax…. Cincy pays 2.1% and still can’t cover it’s butt with it’s own retirement fund issues. Why do you think “Big Government” can save this?

    • This isn’t bigger government. It’s smaller government. Such a move would remove duplicated city services and help both communities realize economies of scale.

    • matimal

      People won’t see it that way.

    • Sherman Cahal

      On the flip side, Norwood had trouble paying its other bills. To each their own, but I had coworkers at Xavier who specifically lived in Norwood because of the lower taxes. Even when I started at Xavier six years ago, we were in the Norwood city limits and I enjoyed lower taxes. When we got moved to another building, it was in Cincinnati and my tax rate went up. (Not that I’m complaining – but plenty did.)

    • Guest

      Talk of Cincinnati-county consolidation is just something that comes up when local politicians want to earn brownie points. The townships are essentially cities now with their JEDDs so maybe talk to turn to other cities/villages consolidating with townships, rather than continuing this Cincinnati-county consolidation dream.

    • The State of Ohio should really put an end to JEDDs. The only reason it exists is because township-focused state representatives wanted to give more taxing authority to townships than what is suppose to legally exist.

    • AkronRonin

      Actually, you can think Mayor Don Plusquellic of Akron for JEDDs. He came up with the idea in the late 1980s as an alternative to annexation of township land after a bitter dispute when the City of Akron annexed the Firestone Country Club (stop on the PGA tour) from Coventry Township in southern Summit County. The township trustees threatened to incorporate to block all further annexation attempts, but Plusquellic’s proposed Joint Economic Development District plan allowed the city to bring in additional tax revenues from township land in exchange for water service to it and a promise that the city would not attempt to annex additional township land for 99 years without mutual consent.

      I agree though that the fundamental problem with local government has more to do with antiquated state and federal laws from the late 18th and early 19th centuries that never anticipated the path urban development would take. We need updated laws that fully recognize and respect the reality of metropolitan regions and allow them to govern themselves as unified entities, even across state lines, as opposed to the fragmented, patchwork mess that they are currently, which benefits no one.

    • charles ross

      sycamore and columbia twp JEDD activity from june 2013 in the gannett rags. amberly, madeira, et al…


    • JWM

      You got it. The two west side townships would go bats*** crazy of the thought of “those” people controlling what they do. Imagine what Delhi Pike would look like with proper zoning. The we’d have people opposed to everything stopping any change, anywhere, anytime.

  • matimal

    I agree, but the politics would make the Middle East look calm by comparison. It will most likely happen bit by bit. Individual agreements on cooperation in local road maintenance or ambulances. Then maybe sharing the costs of school buses and then, a little later, local police start sharing costs. A frontal assault on local governments will just bring more coast-style siege mentality. Financially, you are absolutely right, Randy. Cincinnati’s high water quality (MSD) and glorious public library system (Cincinnati and Hamilton County) show what regional cooperation can do. They are Cincinnati at its best.

    • I agree that this would be politically difficult, but I imagine some of these places would be much easier than others. In other cases, I believe the State of Ohio could and should step in and say enough is enough. If Governor Kasich means what he says about streamlining government and eliminating waste, then he should step up and help lead this charge.

    • Mark Christol

      hee hee

  • Eric

    Indiana does a much better job of enabling and encouraging city/village-township consolidation. You form a committee, study it for a year, do a report, then the elected officials (the same ones that initiated the study) decide. Examples more recent than UniGov are Zionsville, IN, and the failed Brownsburg, IN, township consolidation I was part of that ultimately was stopped due to a glitch in fire dept equipment funding. Michigan has pulled back revenue sharing under a Republican gov. in favor of incentivizing and providing up to $15 million for municipalities that want to consolidate but there have been no takers so far as I believe consolidation is a more difficult ballot measure.

  • ScottG13

    I wonder if municipalities for choose to merge without a vote. Could a village council simply vote to merge?

  • Neil Clingerman

    Schools are going to be the toughest thing to solve in those areas that are not part of Cincinnati.

    Maybe a compromise can be made on that issue, so that other services can be consolidated for efficiency sake. I do feel that consolidation would cut out a lot of waste but Schools are really going to be the hot button issue due to the perceptions of CPS.

    Any other issue is going to just be for idiotic provincial reasons only.

    • This is the thing…Cincinnati Public Schools is a separate entity from the City of Cincinnati, and school districts in Hamilton County do not necessarily need to follow political jurisdiction boundaries.

      For instance, part of CPS already goes into Green Township while part of Oak Hills Local School District goes into the City of Cincinnati. This happens all over the county, so the issue of schools is more based in rhetoric than reality.

    • charles ross

      I would love to see more merging of the county/city park districts. Thank goodness for the Hamilton county libraries. We have it good in that respect.

  • Mark Christol

    Mergers would mess up the political balances too much to be palatable to the parties involved. Adding Republican oriented suburbs would mean ceding power to Cincinnati’s Democrat majority and the gradual addition of those suburbs would erode the Democrat solidarity currently held in Cincinnati.

    • John Yung

      Most of the municipalities in the article are already heavily Democratic since they are mostly inner-ring suburbs. The Republican base has fled to outskirt townships such as Green and Anderson as well as always reliable Blue-Ash. The Dem-Rep balance would be more likely to change if the entire county is annexed in a consolidated govt.

  • There’s definitely advantages in efficiency to consolidation, but that comes at the expense of resiliency. The larger monolithic unified government is less able to react to changing trends or to better serve the needs of its citizens as they become more distanced from their representatives. Smaller units of government may be less efficient, but they’re much more nimble and better tailored to the practical realities of their locale. Conversely, looking at something like Indianapolis’ UNIGOV, they have a monstrously bad suburban zoning code overlaying the entire county. It’s simply too complicated to try to account for all possible neighborhood permutations, so instead they have a simpler to manage but ultimately anti-urban zoning situation. When an organization gets so large, everything has to be dumbed down, distilled, and normalized so everything doesn’t grind to a halt. Do we really want that?

    There’s also the issue of constituencies. The more of these inner suburbs that get annexed, the more disgruntled ex-city residents are brought back into the fold of political influence. By definition the farther out you go the more suburban it gets, so by annexing more suburbs it further dilutes the already tenuous liberal/urban majority in city government. Looking at the streetcar situation for instance, it’s been a difficult enough road as it is dealing with the contrarians from outer neighborhoods like Westwood, Pleasant Ridge, Mt. Washington, and Sayler Park. Imagine if the people of Deer Park, Cheviot, Silverton, and Norwood actually had a say in the matter too, let alone Blue Ash, Indian Hill, or Green Township, there’d be no chance!

    Also, what would be the benefit to the city in annexing other municipalities that are already in fiscal jeopardy? Sure THEY might get better services (which is questionable anyway, since they managed to get by just fine so far), but it would come at the expense of the rest of the city. It’s sort of like the dot-com bubble, saying that it’s ok to lose on every transaction (or annexation in this case), but we’ll make it up in volume! The world doesn’t work that way. At least these separate municipalities’ financial troubles are visible because they’re not hidden inside a larger city. If we could drill down the city’s finances, it would be pretty clear that many of the outer neighborhoods like I mentioned above can’t carry their own weight, and they’re propped up by downtown and uptown for the most part. Even that’s not working out very well, so adding more liabilities without adding assets isn’t going to help.

    I’m not saying that there wouldn’t be benefits to consolidation in some form, nor am I advocating de-annexing city neighborhoods. I just want to point out that consolidation comes with some real costs along with the benefits. Efficiency isn’t everything after all.

    • Eric

      Yeah, no one should say the Indy and Nashville consolidations are Smart Growth techniques, just money savers. The Indiana consolidation does however allow the former township area to be designated a rural zone and the former municipal area the urban zone, so there is some Smart Growth potential there.

    • The communities discussed in this article are hardly the far-flung suburbs you’re discussing in this comment. These are essentially city neighborhoods that just happen to be fragmented in a way that has maintained their own entire city government. Several of these places are completely surrounded by Cincinnati city limits. The rest are immediately adjacent and tend to maintain the exact same neighborhood character as the neighborhoods immediately next to them that just happen to be inside Cincinnati city limits.

    • Jeffrey, my initial thoughts were the same as yours. In some instances there may be added efficiency benefits from combined services, but talk of annexation requires political will.

      The city may end up annexing a few of the financially distressed entities, but they have little motivation to do so. With many of the other communities, I just can’t see them willing to become part of Cincinnati, either because of wealth or pride. And are a bunch of Democrats at City Hall going to agree to annexing Republican-leaning municipalities? It’s a hard sell.

      I think what we’re slowly moving towards locally is a system of county-wide sharing of services, while capital expenses, development approval, etc. are handled at the jurisdictional level. There is even a push within Cincinnati to give neighborhoods more control over capital expenses (though this is coming mainly from neighborhoods), and obviously development/planning is moving more towards neighborhoods with the implementation of form-based codes. The annexation plan is interesting, but at this time I don’t think anyone with the power to pursue it actually wants to.

    • It would be interesting to know how much of an overlap there already is in the services of some of these communities. Silverton and Deer Park for instance have a joint fire department, and many of the school districts overlap too. I think we’re much more likely to see service sharing or even contracting increase in the future instead of full on annexation. It sure seems like it’d be a much easier pill to swallow for everyone involved, at the very least.

    • I sit on a committee for Plan Cincinnati and I believe collaborative/shared services is one of the things we’re going to be studying (committee just started). Shoot me an email if you want to get involved: zacharyschunn@gmail.com

  • Brad McLaughlin

    I respectfully disagree with the whole idea of consolidation. One person’s govt inefficiency, is another person’s govt granularity. If I lived in Reading, would I rather go to Reading officials with something as mundane as a new stop sign, or snow removal, or blighted property, or go the City of Cincinnati? Easy, Reading. That is not a crack on Cincinnati, just that Cincinnat City Council is not going to take time to talk about the stop sign at Halker and Bonnell streets.

    • Eric

      Yes, smaller governments can be much more reactive to citizens concerns but that doesn’t mean they have any money to fix the issues citizens have. I used to live in Covington and you can call, email or attend meetings to voice concerns about terrible sidewalks but there was no money to fix them. So what if the change you wanted to see was more expensive, a roundabout or speed bumps were needed, housing needs to be rehabbed or demolished, or your park system is failing. Then it would be to your benefit to have a bigger pool of money to draw from.

    • The problem is that these small localities can not afford to exist without resorting to raising taxes or schemes like red light cameras and speed traps. Are citizens of Reading willing to agree to a tax increase so they can maintain their independence?

    • Brad McLaughlin

      I am positive (Reading, Norwood, St Bernard, Amberley) would say yes. The area is that Balkanized.
      But I should clarify, I am not talking so much about Arlington Heights and Elmwood Places of the area, there is a certain level of population and/or footprint that is needed to make an entity work. But Eric above mentioned Covington…if Covington can’t manage the sidewalks, then they have a governing issue, probably not a funding issue. Is Kenton County going to do any better with the sidewalks? Cheaper maybe, but I doubt better.

    • Once again, no one is suggesting a city takeover of the entire county. What is proposed in my editorial is merging some of these inner-ring suburbs, that seem to be failing, with the City of Cincinnati. In most all of these cases it would not at all be difficult for the City of Cincinnati to start providing public services to the area because they’re already doing so in the city neighborhoods that surround them.

    • But would it actually be a benefit to Cincinnati to do so? If these municipalities can’t make it on their own, then they’ll just be piling more liabilities on Cincinnati without bringing much in the way of assets. Maybe Cincinnati could take over and extend services and get some little added efficiency out of that, but if the place is already so fragile then it seems like just kicking the can down the road until an eventual bigger financial crisis.

    • Yes, the reason these areas are struggling is because they’re too small to support city government level services. It would add very little in terms of expenses to the City of Cincinnati. The real benefit would be for taxpayers. They would get better public services and amenities for generally less money.

    • Rob Jaques

      Jeffrey, a HUGE amount of cost reduction will be had due to the elimination of administrative overhead in these smaller cities. Paid elected and many appointed positions would be nearly completely eliminated, allowing the new larger city to leverage this cost savings for improved services to these new area.

      It’d be interesting to look at the municipal taxes (earnings/property/etc) to see if individuals/households would see their expenses increase or decrease.

    • If the savings are so huge then why isn’t it done more often? I suspect you’re overestimating just how much “administrative overhead” there is in the budgets compared to actual “on the ground” expenses. Even a very well-paid administrator’s salary will only buy you about 1/4 mile of a street resurfacing per year, or 1/7 the cost of a new fire truck.

    • Brad McLaughlin

      I guess I am confused then, Reading, Norwood, St Bernard, Amberley are all on your map. You can’t add 77k people from Lockland.
      So just to play devil’s advocate then, if you are not for and County/City merger, just a few sort of low hanging fruit (which I totally agree with) then what do you suggest, or anybody suggest is the optimal citizens/jurisdiction?

    • I am proposing exactly what is shown in the map (http://cdn.urbancincy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Proposed-Hamilton-County-Municipal-Mergers.png). It’s a far cry from the entire county, or even the far-flung suburbs of the entire county. Adding 77,000 more people to the City of Cincinnati would mean that only around 50% of the county would live within the City of Cincinnati.

      Here’s the full breakdown so there’s no confusion:

      Village of Arlington Heights (Population 745)
      Columbia Township (Population 4,532)

      Village of Elmwood Place (Population 2,188)
      Village of St. Bernard (Population 4,368)
      Village of Silverton (Population 4,788)
      Village of Lockland (Population 3,449)
      Village of Golf Manor (Population 3,611)
      City of North College Hill (9,397)
      Village of Addyston (Population 938)
      Amberley Village (Population 3,585)
      Village of Fairfax (Population 1,699)
      City of Reading (Population 10,385)
      City of Cheviot (Population 8,375)
      City of Norwood (Population 19,207)

      These would all become part of the City of Cincinnati as part of my proposal. Most all of them have fewer than 5,000 people and could simply become their own city neighborhoods with their own community council. Norwood is probably the only one that would need to be broken up into multiple neighborhoods with multiple community councils.

      Keep in mind, there are 9 city neighborhoods (Avondale, Bond Hill, CUF, East Price Hill, Hyde Park, Mt. Washington, Oakley, West Price Hill, Westwood) with more than 10,000 people each. The most populous is Westwood with 29,950 residents…10k more than all of Norwood!

    • Brad McLaughlin

      We are on the same page then. I think an aside about Covington/Kenton confused matters in the thread. I know you are not advocating for a City/County merger. But that begs the question of why not Wyoming? Why not Lincoln Heights?

    • Good question!

    • Eric

      I’m not sure what you mean separating governing and finance since one drives the other. Covington requires that homeowners maintain even broken or missing sidewalks because the city simply can’t afford to fix them. So it becomes a totally unrealistic enforcement issue that ultimately causes them to just look the other way and we’re stuck with broken sidewalks.

    • Brad McLaughlin

      Well, if the citizens don’t fix the sidewalks, and the city can’t fix the sidewalks, and the city will not enforce fixing the sidewalks…then geez, I got nothing.
      It becomes and matter of priorities with the whole social contract I suppose.
      Reading seems to be doing ok, they have some lovely new facilities at Voorhees Park I went to a few weeks ago. If that comes at the expense of sidewalks, then that is their choice. I am sure there is a magic ratio of fixed costs/population/per tax dollar, I ahve no idea what it is.

    • Eric, I think in most jurisdictions sidewalk repair is the property owner’s responsibility? Correct me if I’m wrong.

    • In theory, you’re right. But in reality the City of Cincinnati would create a community council for these new city neighborhoods, as they have for the rest of the city. These community councils are then suppose to handle these hyperlocal issues and then relay them to City Council, which is elected at-large by the entire city.

      I understand your sentiment, but in Cincinnati’s case it is one of the most fragmented and dysfunctional municipal layouts in the country. Sure adding in a few more areas that are already essentially part of the city wouldn’t degrade services or responsiveness. In fact, I would argue that it would improve since the City of Cincinnati has more political clout and resources to provide public services and other amenities.

    • Brad McLaughlin

      Community Councils can work, Northside is a perfect example, but I think that is too much for Reading and Norwood to cede. I suppose in theory, if they need a bigger pot of money, they go to the county or their state level legislators. I know, in theory. LOL

    • Eric

      I don’t think Cincinnati is that different than other Midwestern cities but I think people that fear consolidation/annexation need to look at the north side and south side of Chicago. It’s all the same city but it boils down to what neighborhood you’re in. So there’s always the socioeconomics of the neighborhood, which matter more than what’s going on at the citywide scale as it relates to residents.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Not saying that all community councils are bad (there are plenty of really great ones) but the system does need some cleaning up to make it a viable way to handle hyper local issues.

      Of course I’m biased due to the situation in Corryville.

    • The issue with the community council idea is the sentiment (true or not) that City Council has drained resources from community councils, rendering them less useful. Grants have gotten smaller and some neighborhoods balk at even applying for them because of the hoops they have to jump through. And the communication between councilmembers and most community councils is poor or even non-existent.

      There is a push to change this, but it is in the early stages IMO.

    • Kevin LeMaster

      Community councils are not so happy that the Neighborhood Support Program and Neighborhood Business District Support Programs were moved away from being administered by Invest In Neighborhoods and got moved in-house to Community Development, a decision that took forever…and then the City budget shifted to a mid-year fiscal year. This created a ton of confusion for even the most organized community councils, took projects off of the table due to delays and uncertainty, and has led to a ton of complaints.

      Another issue is the makeup of the community councils themselves. In some neighborhoods, they are made up entirely of developers. Other neighborhoods have little participation, either because they don’t alert their residents, the residents are mostly transient, or other factors. So…before we say “annex them and they can become a neighborhood and the community council will look out for the peoples’ best interests”, I think we really need to look at how the City communicates with our own community councils. I know for a fact that a lot of these folks feel ignored.

  • Suz

    I don’t think consolidation into the City of Cincinnati is the way to go, at least for the benefit of some of the communities. Some of them, sure, I can see that, but others could be consolidated into other nearby communities. Fold Silverton and Amberley Village into Sycamore Twp. and Reading into Blue Ash. Those moves might make more economic sense than consolidating them into the city.

    • I could be convinced of merging some of these places into the City of Blue Ash instead of the City of Cincinnati, but not Sycamore Township. Part of the problem with townships is that they were never meant to be permanent forms of government. Over time the state legislature has given them more power, but they still lack the ability to properly serve citizens.

      Townships were just put in place as a temporary placeholder that would automatically get merged into the larger city (in this case Cincinnati) once growth reached that locale. As a result, I wouldn’t recommend expanding any township boundaries anywhere within metropolitan areas…especially within urban counties.

    • Suz

      I think it would be more beneficial to the respective communities to become part of Blue Ash over the City of Cincinnati. As a resident of Sycamore Township, I am happy with the services I receive and also enjoy the fact that I don’t have any additional taxes on my income. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be part of Cincinnati, as I feel it would not be beneficial to the community on many fronts.

    • charles ross

      Yeah, for instance Kenwood. Everybody knows where Kenwood is – but WHAT it is?

  • jasomm

    anybody else ever notice how much Cincinnati looks like Alaska?

  • Mark Christol

    Poking around the intertubes – one of the problems we would face doing any annexation is that there’s nobody alive in Cincinnati or these towns who has ever done an annexation.
    I’m not saying that’s a deal-breaker but it would be an issue.
    As far as making community councils for the cities, some larger ones might actually get broken into smaller communities like Cumminsville was.
    Also found an interesting discussion from 9 years ago on the Black Cincinnati Blog. Apparently Councilman Smitherman is a fan of JEDDs.


  • Jeff Meckstroth

    I am overall a supporter of consolidation but I have a worry. Will consolidation put mass transit plans in jeopardy ? I feel as though allowing suburban voters to vote on city issues may hurt the expansion of the streetcar and future light rail.What do you guys think?

    • That’s one of the big concerns I outlined earlier. It’s not just transit, but things like bike lanes, new urbanist development, or really any change to the status quo. That’s a where inner ring suburbs seem to be the worst, for whatever reason, even compared to the exurbs. Norwood and St. Bernard for instance are not only ambivalent about cycling infrastructure, but openly hostile and uncooperative towards working with Cincinnati on any plans. Fairfax, Deer Park, and Reading are little better.

    • Patton

      Bike Lanes? really, Go home hippy.

    • The streetcar is one thing, but light rail and even the bus system really shouldn’t be city-only ventures (or if they are they should be touted as such). The fact that Metro spans 3 counties but is only funded by the city of Cincinnati still baffles me.

  • Thad Miller

    Nice editorial, and well thought out.

    Columbus Ohio has been annexation happy for decades. Any idea how they were able to double their population with little resistance? Maybe Cincinnati could follow the same model?

    • I believe Columbus benefited by being able to continue to annex communities as they expanded their water district. This used to be the case for Cincinnati, and Cleveland I believe, but then the state took those rights away from those cities. As a result, Columbus has been able to expand its boundaries over time while Cincinnati and Cleveland have not.

    • Mark Christol

      can you point to a link or book that explains what the change in Ohio law was? I thought it was just the way annexors & annexees voted that was changed.

    • Here’s some information on Columbus annexation laws: http://wosu.org/2012/news/2011/06/05/how-annexation-works-in-columbus/.

  • Mike Hupp

    I find it funny that many of the concerns are based on the false assumption that the City and many of its progressive plans for the future will somehow be in danger by bringing in places like Norwood. I have to wonder if some of these people throwing around words like Suburban and Conservative have ever spent 5 minutes in Norwood. Norwood in particular is more Urban than many of the neighborhoods that already belong to Cincinnati.

    • Those plans are already endangered by people who don’t even live in the city. Plus the outer neighborhoods which are much more like Norwood and St. Bernard already showed in the past streetcar votes that they aren’t supporters, so how would adding new neighborhoods like those help with the truly urban concerns?

    • I agree. I don’t think the communities profiled here are all that different politically and culturally from the City of Cincinnati. Sure there might be some differences here or there, but that’s true within the City of Cincinnati already. As liberal as Over-the-Rhine and Northside are, Mt. Lookout and West Price Hill are just as conservative.

  • JacobEPeters

    Consolidation might be needed, but consolidation into one entity might not be helpful. As Jeff points out, consolidation might be more appropriate when the area being consolidated has shared interests. Following this logic, the “islands” of Norwood, Elmwood Place & St. Bernard would be logical. Since they have a population density of more than 5,000 residents per mile, compared to the city’s density of under 4,000 residents per mile, as well as large industrial/big box retail zones at locations where rail and highways converge, similarly to how the city itself, has developed.

    I believe that these attributes are assets for the future, whereas the more spread out sections of the region will be saddled with financial instability through car dominated, pedestrian unfriendly development. Bring in parts of the region which are already on their way to being the kind of complete neighborhoods which new urbanism imitates, not the spread out sections which are part of the “ponzi scheme” an earlier article highlighted.

  • Brian

    What would Cincinnati gain from annexation of areas with trouble paying their bills? One of the major benefits of merging with a county is to increase the city tax base by adding wealthier suburban communities. It looks like you’re adding a lot of expense and not a lot of dollars.

    • Steven Fields

      Well one problem i would see if absorbing the pensions of some of these places. Then you have the chance of a little corruption with lucrative pensions just before a merger happens.

  • smckinley

    Well there’s definitely a whole better kind of comments on here than you’d see on the Enquirer!

    While consolidation of this type is certainly not a ridiculous idea by any stretch, I think it mistakes the Gestalt of the thing for an actual solution: it just seems silly that you cross the street, can’t tell any difference visually, but you’re under a different jurisdiction. However, when you look closer, maybe it’s not such a hot idea after all.

    This has happened a lot in the urban planning and transportation fields. It just seems like there should be a highway exit in a certain spot so one gets built, never mind that it wasn’t really needed and causes way more problems. An urban design makes sense in the graphic plans so it must be a good one, but then you end up with Cabrini Green or Pruitt Igoe.

    My next objection is that it seems like Cincinnati would be taking on a fresh dose of urban decay, just when it seems to be working it’s way out of the last near-70 years of it. Why did Cincinnati (and of course many others) start to fall apart in the 50’s? It wasn’t just consumer preference. There was massive public investment outside the cities, largely at the expense of investment the cities desperately needed, after a decade and a half of economic depression and war. So first the inner-ring suburbs, then the outer suburbs could offer lots more house and yard, new schools, new water and sewer, with a still-reasonable commute time back into the cities.

    A lot of the trouble suburbs are running into these days stem from the fact that they were basically handed a bunch of roads, sewers, water lines, etc., almost for free, but now the maintenance and even replacement costs are mounting and they can’t be the low-tax utopias they once were. Those are now farther out, where the State and Feds are expanding roads and the sewers and water are being extended. So why would Cincinnati want to take on those older suburbs? They grabbed resources from the City way back when, and now that they’ve played out their advantages it’s a good idea to take them in? Even at Cincinnati tax rates, most of them would just be a big drag on City resources, although a couple of them might actually pay off.

    Something else to keep in mind is efficiency equals (not just lost resiliency, but) people out of work. Everybody loves to slam government employees, but go to some of these small jurisdictions and see just how many people you find goldbricking. In some cases, the Council members aren’t paid anything or very little. Some have volunteer fire departments. By and large, the employees make a heck of a lot less than City of Cincinnati employees. Is this a great labor market to throw those folks into? Think they’re really going to get jobs with the City of Cincinnati, even the ones who are still necessary?

    Finally, I’d like to concur with one of the previous posters, who pointed out that bigger government isn’t necessarily better. It’s already way too expensive to run for City Council, so people with a lot of money get too much influence and a lot of the discussion ends up at the idiotic soundbite level. A few of the community councils are well-organized and/or well-connected enough to get things done, but it’s still a very indirect process. They may occasionally be able to get their needs added to the citywide list, but they’re still part of a citywide list, not generally resources handed back to the community to accomplish things.

    So, again, annexing those jurisdictions isn’t a ridiculous idea, just not a very good one.

  • Jeff Meckstroth

    Randy, I agree with you about stream lining local goverment by merging but I have another worry. These suburbs are set up as huge drains on resources and tax dollars. With houses being so spread out its expensive to provide basic services to these communities. Would the city benefit from these areas or would they merely be a drain on city resources.

    • The houses in these areas are not spread out at all. In fact, as Jacob Peters pointed out in this comment section, the City of Norwood (about 5,000 per square mile) actually has a higher average population density than the City of Cincinnati (about 4,000 per square mile).

      These aren’t spread out suburbs. These are inner-ring suburbs that are similar in nature to almost all of Cincinnati’s city neighborhoods.

    • Jeff Meckstroth

      I am not just referring to Norwood but places like Harrison, Ohio

    • Well that’s another issue altogether. I’m not proposing the City of Cincinnati annex every part of Hamilton County…far from it. I’m merely proposing folding mostly tiny communities, that are essentially city neighborhoods, into the City of Cincinnati.

  • Rhonda D

    As a 12-year Norwood resident and homeowner, I’d be very open to the idea of bringing it into the city of Cincinnati. Mayor Tom Williams has long touted the Rookwood complexes as being our saving grace. Yet, some 20 years later, the city still struggles. For those that have lived there their lives, I suspect they would view this proposal differently. But the entrenched same folks that have been operating the city and its services are clearly not effective. I hope further discussion amongst the involved parties happens in the future.

  • Marcie Brady

    I have to call BS on this. since cincy is going broke due in large part by its obligations to pay retirement funds…just how is a large broke city supposed to make things better for anyone else all the while they can’t help themselves? also why would it make sense to “become cincy” and then work hard to “keep their own identity as a small area of town? but the truth comes out when it says this would increase cincy’s tax base….. help cincy cover its butt with the retirement fund…… no thanks!

  • Brad McLaughlin

    Good points all around. I remain unconvinced that it is a either a viable or desirable path forward. However, as I try to do in most facets of life, I reserve the right to change my mind as more data becomes available. But that is beside the point of this comment.
    The point of this comment is to revel in the awesomeness of having a civil, intelligent online debate with differing views that does not spiral into name calling. Like Sam mentioned, Enquirer comments turn my stomach. Like all of us, I want our little neck of the woods to succeed, be it Cincinnati, Elmwood Place, Newport, or *gasp* Mason. Yes, I am an urban booster. I work in the CBD, live in OTR, drink & eat everywhere. But finding glee in suburban woes is cold comfort, even though the haters that take glee in any OTR shooting make it tough.
    We (urbanist types) are making progress, we all feel it. I was in Tom+Chee on Court recently, a couple in front of me let me cut in because they were overwhelmed by all the options. They ended up sitting by me. I chatted them up. They were from West Chester, 50s-ish, lily white, could not recall the last time they were downtown for anything other than for a Reds game and probably ever north of 5th. Yet, here they were on a daytrip, parked in Washington Park garage, walked to Court to eat lunch, talked about getting down sometime to see the CSO/Pops sometime. They had heard about the new vibe from the news, a church lady told them about Tom+Chee. Small victory, long grind.

    • Brad McLaughlin

      I go all warm and fuzzy only to discover Marcie Brady has crapped in the punchbowl.

    • Thanks Brad! We work very hard to cultivate good discussion. This has been a fantastic comment thread thus far because it includes a lot of people with a lot of different thoughts and ideas on the matter.

      Maybe some of you will be able to attend our August URBANexchange event tomorrow evening and continue the conversation in person over a beer at the Moerlein Lager House. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1407552332791082/.

  • Scott Hand

    Did anyone else hear this today? Communities Debate Whether Sharing Services Saves Money


    They mention some of the same benefits, but the only reason keeping obvious instances of consolidation from happening is pride.

  • Matt Jacob

    Generally I’m in favor of consolidation of municipalities within Hamilton county. There are just way too many and it makes business and investment much more difficult in our region vs others where there is only one maze to navigate instead of 49.

    It really amazes me that so many have lasted so long, which I think it a testament to the politicians and civil servants in each that have kept even the small ones afloat. Just imagine if we could redeploy these people to solve bigger issues instead of balancing 49 shoestring budgets after the state cut funding. Maybe if we consolidate we can get smarter people who can actually manage to structurally balance the City’s budget in this decade.

    People love to rag on city council and their incompetence (all debatable) but maybe we could put together a stronger slate with a broader candidate pool. I’d vote for a Tom Williams or another proven leader for city government over many of the bottom tier candidates that will sneak in this year. It’ll only make the City and region stronger to come together to solve problems and stop competing against one another to all our detriment.

    I’ll end with my first reaction to this article, which was that someone needs to buy a bunch of political signs and surround Elmwood Place and Arlington Heights. Come up with something witty to the tune of “This small government doesn’t make sense anymore” or “The grass is greener on the Cincinnati side” and then just open the eyes of the couple hundred people in these places. Let them come to us, but get them thinking about the idea so that when these governments start enforcing more speed traps to cover bills again the residents know they have another choice.

  • DaneG

    As a transplant from Atlanta, I see a lot of similarities. Atlanta’s metro area grows exponentially while being surrounded by smaller incorporated suburbs. Cincinnati’s regional neighbors have jumped ahead of Cincy’s population by annexing vast tracts of land (that sparsely populated cow town of Columbus) or by combining with their host counties (Indianapolis and Louisville.) We still have a larger metro area than any of those neighbor cities. The discussion here about the inefficiencies of the villages and townships in Hamilton Co. yet how Cincinnati provides services to those communities is something that should be brought to public attention and a UniGov-type merger be seriously considered. Nashville, TN is a good example if how it can be successful. A Cincinnati with an 800K population would get national attention an bring investment and interest. I also think Cincy should play up the Cincinnati-Dayton Metroplex. Greatness awaits!

  • Conservativeavenger

    People in Norwood do not need the people surrounding them SPEAKING for them. You all have your opinions of how Norwood is, but we have our own successful school district, a GREAT police department and Fire Department, a lot of NON retail business developments, growing all the time. Sure there are missteps, but Norwood, Reading, Finneytown, I think all of us are just fine, and I know I for one do NOT want to consolidate municipal services. I’ve been in this area for half a century. As a citizen, your voice is HEARD in Norwood. In Cincinnati, you have to get on the news before they hear you. Norwood city schools rank 116 places higher than Cincinnati public (http://www.schooldigger.com/go/OH/districtrank.aspx). They are also higher than Finneytown, St. Bernard, Northwest, Princeton, Lockland, or Winton Woods. Its very easy to claim you can fix everything for someone else, but try fixing yourselves first.

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