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New Study Touts Low Cost Of Ohio Township Governance

A new study says that townships, those unincorporated areas within a county, are the most cost-effective form of government compared to Ohio’s cities and villages. The report, commissioned by the Ohio Township Association, seems to counter claims that government consolidation is one way to help relieve fiscal pressures. Lt. Anthony Pfeifer is part of a police force which includes 10 full-time and five part-time patrol officers. Their jurisdiction is an area of about 2 square miles; not unusual for a very small city or a village. But Pfeifer’s Clinton Township police department sits on two swaths of land on the east and west sides of Columbus. “Over on the east side of our township we’re pretty mixed up,â€? Pfeifer says. “We sort of melt into the city on certain streets.â€? The western section is a little more defined sitting between the Olentangy River and Upper Arlington. Lt. Pfeifer is proud of the service that his department provides to residents. “They basically get a personalized police department,â€? Pfeifer says. “We have about a three to four minute response time on any call. It may be a 15- to 20-minute response time with Columbus.â€? There are 1,308 townships across Ohio; most of them very rural. Many belong to the Ohio Township Association which has just released a study about the cost effectiveness of small government entities. “States that have a lot of small local governments tend to have small, balanced budgets and so, actually, while there’s a lot of them, the impact is that it holds down the cost of local government,â€? says Matthew DeTemple, executive director of the Ohio Township Association. DeTemple lists some of the services that townships provide. “We maintain over 41,000 miles of roads in Ohio, move than any other type of governmental entity in this state. We provide police protection, fire protection, parks, and senior citizen centers,â€? DeTemple says. According to the new study Ohio’s local governments spend approximately $48 billion a year. Cities and villages spend 21 percent of that amount. Townships, the study says, spend significantly less. “Townships are a very low-cost form of government,â€? DeTemple says. “We spend only about 2.7 percent of the total cost of local government spent by all of local government each year in Ohio. When you compare townships to cities and villages, townships have lower taxes, less debt and smaller budgets than cities and villages of comparable sizes.â€? The Buckeye Institute’s Greg R. Lawson agrees with the report’s budgetary findings. “The report is absolutely factually accurate,â€? Lawson says. “It’s a great starting point for a larger conversation that we need to be having in Ohio, which is about the entire structure of our entire governmental system and how they interrelate to each other.â€? Lawson says he supports the study’s budgetary findings. But, Lawson says, when the complexities of reforming local government structures are considered, budgets are only one part of the equation. “It’s not just exclusively the budget that we’re concerned with,â€? Lawson says. “It’s costs that are embedded in the system across multiple entities, not just the townships.â€? In his own report, Lawson writes that the sheer number of local governments adds layers of bureaucracy on top of each other and requires higher taxes. One answer to the problem, Lawson says, is tax reform; but that, he says, remains problematic.