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Improvements to Village Dissolution Law Mean Fewer Headaches for Townships, Counties
By Dave Yost, Ohio Auditor of State
Villages are an enduring part of Ohio’s local government landscape, with nearly 700 of them throughout the state. But villages don’t necessarily last forever. For a variety of reasons, from time to time the residents of a village decide to dissolve their government. When they do, it can present challenges for the township that must absorb the residents and take on the responsibility of providing government services to them.
Sorting out what to do with village property and assets, and how to ensure that water, sewer and police services are maintained are some of the complexities that township and county officials must deal with. The process has not always been timely and tidy, in part because Ohio law lacked clarity about how a village dissolution should proceed.
But provisions added to Ohio’s recently passed biennial budget bill aim to fix gaps and eliminate ambiguities in state law. And while the Auditor of State has previously been involved in dissolutions, the new provisions explicitly define the Auditor’s role. The changes take effect at the end of September.
By clarifying responsibilities and setting deadlines, these improvements in the law should make the village dissolution process easier and more orderly. My office worked with Ohio Rep. Gary Scherer to help win legislative approval for the changes. The Pickaway County Village of Orient in Scherer’s district recently dissolved, and was absorbed by Scioto Township.
Sometimes villages die of apathy: Residents lose interest in serving as elected village officials. In other cases, the cause is financial. The village simply doesn’t have the money to operate and residents are unwilling to tax themselves harder to make ends meet.
Whatever the impetus, village dissolutions begin with the circulation of a petition calling for a vote on dissolution. The petition is presented to the village council, which is authorized to validate the petition and schedule a vote. Until now, this petition required resident signatures equal to 40 percent of those who voted in the most recent village election. Once submitted to the village council, however, council could stall action on the petition indefinitely.
The new law reduces the signature requirement to 30 percent and requires the village council to act within 30 days. If the council misses that deadline, residents now can submit the petition directly to the county Board of Elections for validation and scheduling of a vote.
If residents vote to dissolve their village, the new provisions mandate that the Auditor of State and the affected township be notified, along with the Ohio Secretary of State and the county recorder.
The measure requires the Auditor of State to undertake an examination of the village within 30 days of notification of the dissolution, to verify all village property and cash balances. Village and township officials are expected to negotiate the transfer of village assets to the township, but if no agreement is reached within 60 days of the dissolution vote, these assets pass to the township automatically.
Village-owned utilities such as sewer and water will be transferred to a county or regional water and sewer authority, and the receiver of these operations will be empowered to petition the county Court of Common Pleas to revise user fees, rates, charges and assessments as deemed necessary, based on a systems audit to determine the financial and operational state of the utility. A similar process is outlined in the event the village provided electric service. Utility services to village residents are to be maintained throughout the transition.
Disassembling a local government probably will never be an easy task, but thanks to these changes in Ohio law, the path is smoother and marked with more guideposts.
This article was first published in the Ohio Township Magazine.