Monday, May 21, 2001

Townships, cities debate Ohio annexation changes

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Efforts by rural officials to change state law governing how cities acquire township land have neared a conclusion in the Legislature.

        A bill making the most significant changes in the annexation law in 35 years cleared the Senate in February and is being lined up for a vote in the House, perhaps within a month.

        The House Local Government and Townships Committee, which has been conducting hearings on the measure for 2 1/2 months, is ready to write the final version.

        The bill is identical to a measure that died in the House Rules Committee in December, when then-Speaker Jo Ann Davidson would not permit a vote by the full House. She said she opposed the bill because it would put too many restrictions on development.

        Ohio's current system compels county commissions to approve most requests by cities and villages to extend their borders into unincorporated areas. All they need is approval from a majority of property owners in an area adjacent to the municipality that is not “unreasonably large.”

        The bill, as it currently stands, would require commissioners to consider how the annexation affects property outside the township and to reimburse townships for lost tax revenue for as long as 15 years.

        It's the product of more than three years of negotiations among city, county and township governments; developers; real estate agents; property owners and businesses.

        Rep. Larry Flowers, R-Canal Winchester, a former township fire chief, said the bill is particularly needed for the Cincinnati and Cleveland areas to spell out rules for orderly annexation.

        “I hope it'll bring folks to the table to work things out,” said Mr. Flowers, a member of the rules committee.

        City government officials are resistant to the bill, but have said they could be persuaded not to fight it if certain amendments are adopted.

        Also opposing the bill is the Ohio Coalition for Equitable Annexation, representing about 300 municipalities.

        “Annexation is the only way cities grow,” said Joyce Bushman, Pickerington city manager and founder of the association. “They need to grow to gain revenue to provide services, like water and sewer, roads, and police and fire protection. This bill would be a fundamental change in the way Ohio does business.”

        Some city officials say the legislation will bog down annexation in a series of legal hearings costing precious time.

        Michael Cochran, executive director of the Ohio Townships Association, says the argument is “preposterous.”

        “Townships are not anti-economic development,” Mr. Cochran said during last year's debate. “However, practical experience indicates that municipalities carve out this development for their benefit through annexation.”

        The House as a whole, with 46 new members, many from rural and conservative areas, appears to favor townships over cities more than in the past. But Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, says he wants a balanced bill with as close to unanimous support as possible.


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- Townships, cities debate Ohio annexation changes