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City-county merger plan withdrawn

‘Dayton Together’ leaders faced backlash from government leaders plus legal hurdles.

Dayton Together — a group that wanted to merge city of Dayton and Montgomery County governments and services — announced Tuesday evening it has withdrawn its proposal, citing a formidable legal obstacle.

The city recently annexed land in Greene county, and the group said state law would make consolidating the governments unrealistic since Dayton now technically spans two counties.

“We’re taking this off the table,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley, who spearheaded the effort in an unofficial capacity.

Dayton Together officers said they still believe consolidating services and new and innovative structures of government are needed to reduce expenses, improve efficiency, make the region more competitive and foster more cooperation between communities.

The nonprofit group paid for a study that suggests local governments spend twice as much on residents per capita than some metro areas that have merged.

“We may be wrong about this solution that we proposed … but we believe that we are asking the right questions about can we thrive financially, are we sustainable financially and is there a better model to help drive investment back into the core community?” Foley said.

Dayton Together officers told this newspaper in an exclusive interview they have withdrawn their proposal.

The decision, they said, is tied to the Dayton City Commission’s vote in late March that approved annexing about 25 acres of Bath Township into the city.

The city-owned property is located in Greene County. Greene County Commissioners have approved the annexation.

A common criticism of the city-county merger plan was that it did not call for combining additional jurisdictions in the county.

But officials said the major roadblock was that communities — including Centerville, Huber Heights, Kettering and Union — cross into multiple counties.

Merging jurisdictions that span multiple counties is especially difficult and complicated and essentially would require a municipality to detach itself from the overlapping county territory, according to research.

“We know that it’s practically impossible to get this done,” Foley said.

The annexation creates an insurmountable legal challenge that prevents consolidating the city, which is where there would be the most opportunity for cost savings, said Phil Parker, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.

The city-county merger is off the table, but hopefully Dayton Together has started a conversation that elected leaders and community members will have about what can be done together to craft a better government that is more efficient and shares services and revenue, Parker said.

Dayton Together hired accounting firm Brady Ware & Company in Miamisburg to summarize government disbursements information from local jurisdictions.

Using state auditor information, the firm estimated governments in the county spend about $2,537 per resident.

Better Together, a group that supports government consolidation in St. Louis, estimates St. Louis city spends $1,810 per capita on its residents.

The group estimates the merged entity of Indianapolis and Marion County spend $1,208 per capita, and the Louisville-Jefferson County metro governments spends $1,095.

Foley said reducing the cost of local government through consolidation, shared services and revenue sharing would provides hefty sums to reinvest back into the community.

“We’re the second highest property taxed county in the state, and that might mean we’d start to bend the cost curve,” Foley said.

Dayton Together’s work was not in vain because the community must have a conversation about how it can adapt to succeed in the future, said U.S. District Judge Walter Rice, who was an officer.

With no ballot issue looming, elected leaders hopefully will be more willing to work together on ways to improve government services and operate more efficiently, Rice said.

“Dayton alone can’t maximize its potential, nor can Jefferson Twp., Trotwood or any of the other 29 jurisdictions,” Rice said. “But together, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish.”

The announcement came one day after opponents of the merger held a second town hall meeting that drew a couple hundred visitors and featured impassioned arguments from community and elected leaders.

Panelists at the event, hosted by Wayman Chapel AME Church on Hoover Avenue, included Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, the heads of both county political parties, NAACP Dayton Unit President Derrick Foward and Tom Richie, president of Dayton AFL-CIO Labor Council.

Montgomery County Commission President Judy Dodge criticized the consolidation proposal, saying it is unrealistic, largely because the jurisdictions have different functions and few services overlap.

The lack of service duplication provides limited opportunities for savings through consolidation, and the city and county already collaborate on numerous objectives at the administrative level, Dodge said.

“The county is a good partner with our local jurisdictions and collaborates in a variety of ways whenever possible,” Dodge said.

They described the merger as a “hostile takeover” that would damage minority representation and will allow residents of other cities and townships to vote on issues that exclusively impact the city of Dayton.

Whaley said the proposal will not benefit the economy and will eliminate accountability of elected officials and Dayton’s ability to govern itself.

“This is an enormous issue that should not be taken lightly,” she said.

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