For the uninitiated, the Ohio Municipal League, is an organization that has been around for decades that advocates for the state’s municipalities; from the smallest village to the largest city, the group is home to a wide and diverse group of constituents. Yet, these constituents, by and large are in agreement on a basic set of principles, it’s time for the State to work differently with the state’s communities.
Earlier this month, the group came out with a landmark report that has described an environment where the administration of local government services have become more and more difficult. The Ohio Municipal League was quick to point out that this difficult environment was not the net result of one bad policy, but rather a confluence of many consequences. New unfunded mandates from the state legislature, combined with less state support for local governments along with increased pressure for more services have made service delivery for Ohio’s villages and cities even harder to accomplish.
The report outlines just a few of the challenges that these local governments are having throughout the state:
• Delayed infrastructure maintenance, repair and upgrading.
• Reductions in municipal employment, causing greater reliance on part-time employees and out-sourced workers.
• Reduced investments in public safety and fewer resources to address an escalating opiate drug addiction crisis.
• Higher municipal taxes in certain cities amidst slow economic and related revenue growth in most cities and villages.
All of this sounds somewhat familiar to individuals that live in any village or city throughout the state. Even throughout our community, our villages and cities are dealing with these issues. Ever since the beginning of the great recession, Troy voters went to the poll to decide whether part-time firefighters could be used. Piqua residents are faced with expensive infrastructure costs as a host of issues have caused the community to build a new water treatment plant.
One of the most interesting concepts the report proposed was dealing with issues with the state’s road infrastructure. According to the report, the state is faced with a $5.6 billion backlog of necessary transportation projects. Compounding this problem is that Ohio is considered a “donor” state when it comes to federal transportation funding; the report point out that while 4 percent of all Americans live in Ohio, the state gets less than 2 percent of all federal transportation funds. The report advocates for an increase in the state’s motor fuel tax, which has remained unchanged in over 10 years. While that may not be a politically feasible option, there are other items that could be discussed.
For example, the state currently limits villages and cities on the amount of funding it could receive through the Permissive Motor Vehicle License Tax. This was the main funding tool that was put in to construct the Adams Street Bridge in Troy. These caps hamper the local government’s ability to raise necessary funds for infrastructure improvement. If procedures are put in place to allow a community to tax itself at a level it can accept, isn’t that a local issue? Why is the state interested in capping this amount, if it is a local issue?
Another example is that many times, residents of local communities are subsidizing the transportation system out in townships. Think about state highways that go through relatively affluent townships; everyone throughout the state gets to pay for the repair and maintenance of those highways. Those same state highways in villages and cities are the responsibility of the local government. And of course, these state highways, especially in cities are the streets that have the most vehicular traffic and carry the heaviest trucks.
Ohio’s cities and villages are truly the lifeblood of this state’s economy as a majority of the state’s GDP is created within the boundaries of Ohio’s municipalities. Our communities need strong advocates that can help improve not only the function of our state’s municipal government, but also help improve the quality of life of our state’s residents that live in municipalities.
Many times those advocates are our community’s leaders that are well aware of the structural challenges that exist. We should resolve ourselves to help give voice to their collective efforts to make our communities strong and vibrant once again.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.