For two years members of OneDayton have met privately exploring the possibility of changing the structure of local government in Montgomery County, a reality that can’t happen without voter support.
They say it’s time for public discussion and, debate.
“Our plea, ‘please keep an open mind,’” Federal Judge Walter Rice, a member of OneDayton, said.
OneDayton has studied options from no change in government structure to a strong charter, where all municipalities and townships combine with the county to form one consolidated government, to a hybrid structure unique to Montgomery County. They will draft an initial prototype structure, to be completed by the first quarter of 2014. For the remainder of the year, the non-profit will focus on raising $100,000 to pay for widespread community conversations on a unified government and, to cover development of the prototype.
“We believe the community needs a tangible model to look at — something to love, hate, or be indifferent about as we dialogue this through 2014,” Montgomery County Commission President Dan Foley said. “No system of government is perfect, but I think there could be a better system.”
Making Montgomery County more economically competitive is the No. 1 driver of OneDayton.
The group operates on a philosophy that the current structure of government is a barrier to transforming the region into a thriving community. Multiple jurisdictions, with independent tax structures and operating priorities results in competition to take businesses away from one another instead of bringing new businesses into the region, Foley said.
And, if Dayton merged with Montgomery County, the city’s population would change from 166,000 to 559,000 making it Ohio’s second largest city.
“This would give us more influence, more visibility, and more opportunities for economic growth,” Foley said. “There are layers and layers of elected officials serving the needs of their small constituencies as opposed to uniting to build a strong metropolitan region.”
In the last 20 years, Montgomery County had the steepest slide (27 percent) among all metro counties in the state in payroll earnings, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The Dayton area remains one of the slowest metro areas in the United States to recover jobs lost during the recession. Projections by the U.S. Conference of Mayors indicate it will take at least a decade for the area to return the number of jobs to 2007 levels.
“Opportunities are lost, resources are not leveraged to compete outward, and the result will be more of the same until something changes, Foley said.
There are about 40 merged city/county governments in the the United States. The merger between Louisville and Jefferson County, Ky., passed in 2000, after three earlier attempts were rejected by voters. It took an additional three years to work through the issues of combining services.
“Local politicians who take the lead (on merger issues) deserve a chapter in Profiles in Courage. If they achieve it, they deserve a chapter in the book of luck,” Ned Hill, dean of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University said.
Hill called Montgomery County, “at the cutting edge of a wave of discussions on governmental integration.”
“Everyone thinks this is a contest about being the biggest (city). If that were true, all businesses in North American would be headed to Mexico, because that’s the biggest,” said Hill, adding businesses searching for new locations are more interested in the size of region as a whole, the workforce, and services offered.
Still, Hill commends OneDayton and says there are benefits in shared services and economy of scale.
“Take a road trip to Louisville, go over to Indianapolis,” Hill said. “Find out what the benefits are.”
OneDayton members say they want “to provide leadership” in public discussions on a range of government structural options.
Noticeably absent from the group is representation from the county’s suburban communities.
“I am hoping that now that it is out in the open, more people will come forward,” Foley said.
Riverside Mayor Bill Flaute said the city in eastern Montgomery County already capitalizes on regional opportunities, like contracting with the city of Dayton to provide cheaper garbage collection services for residents. While he believes there are more opportunities for shared services, Flaute’s not convinced a unified government would be in Riverside’s best interest.
“Sometimes I feel like Riverside is overlooked because the county is pushing development at Austin Road,” Flaute said. “I fear that could continue, if the county was leading. I hesitate to say a unified government would be good.”
Centerville Mayor Mark Kingseed called the idea worthy of ” a hard look.”
“I think we should always be open to ways for government to work more efficiently,” Kingseed said. “Local control is awfully important. The devil is in the details.”
It’s those details that Kettering Mayor Don Patterson also wants to learn. On Wednesday, Patterson heard Foley give an overview of the initiative to the The Greater Dayton Mayors and Managers Association.
“I would say all sitting in the room were interested. We’re looking forward to having a seat at the table and being a part of the process,” Patterson said. “I believe we can come up with something that will make our residents happy and provide better services.”
There are still many unknowns, including whether a unified government would save money.
“There are so many tax levies, so many local governments to be funded, there might be some savings from economy of scale, but I can’t say I know the answer to that,” Foley said. “Our group believes it’s important to understand what we all spend now, so that we have a baseline.”
Another unknown, how residents will react to the idea.
“I think most people probably think the ‘status quo’ isn’t perfect, but at least its a known,” Jennifer Pickard, a resident of Washington Twp. said.
Lynn Brouse, also of Washington Twp,. has already made up his mind.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. I like things the way they are,” he said.
Elaine Miller of Huber Heights said she’d be willing to hear OneDayton’s ideas, because she has come to trust Foley during his years in office, even though he is a Democrat and she is a Republican. Her husband Edward Miller said governments and organizations should come together more often than they do.
Foley acknowledges the concept could be a hard sell.
“People have a real sense of where they live and that doesn’t have to change,” Foley said. “We recognize this is a big idea. Sometimes, big ideas are the ones that are worth pursuing.”
Government integration options
The non-profit group OneDayton plans to begin public discussions in 2014 on government structure options that would create a more unified Montgomery County. To achieve any of the options, residents have to vote for the change.
Option A, no change needed.
Option B, Council of Government for shared services: a central place for communities to discuss ways to share services to cut costs, work on common concerns, and help plan/manage agreements between members jurisdictions, not force solutions by votes. Shared issues would be faced with shared resources, voluntarily. The council would remain neutral in jurisdictional disputes.
Option C, Simple Charter: Municipalities and townships retain all powers, duties and obligations. County administrative structure is reorganized into distinct executive and legislative branches of county executive and five-member county council. All county officers (such as treasurer, auditor, medical examiner, director of development etc.) can be appointed. Similar to governments in Cuyahoga and Summit counties.
Option D, Strong charter, City-County merger, with one city: One city and the county combine into a single government; All other cities and townships remain in existence and retain all powers, duties and obligations; The newly formed city-county government is reorganized with a mayor/county executive and county council, exactly like a charter county structure. All county officers can be appointed. Similar to the Louisville-Jefferson County Metro government.
Option E, Strong charter, city-county merger, some or all jurisdictions: All municipalities and townships combine with the county to form one consolidated government; The newly merged government is reorganized with a county executive and county council, exactly like a charter county; All county officers can be appointed. Similar to The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.
Option F, Defining our own change: Assume that none of the above options fit Montgomery County. Develop a model that unifies as many jurisdictions as possible through merger to create a regional government that is able to address common economic interests. This option requires adoption of strong central charter creating the the unity government similar to Option E, but also allows more jurisdictions to join over time. Under this option, input would be sought on how and to what extent individual community identities would be honored and preserved under the unity government.
Dan Foley, Montgomery County Commission
Brother Ray Fitz, University of Dayton
Judge Walter Rice
Phil Parker, president and CEO, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce
Paula MacIlwaine, former Montgomery County Commissioner
Shannon Martin, Bricker & Eckler real estate attorney
Joey Williams, Dayton City Commissioner
Bob Daily, former Journal Herald reporter also just retired from the Kettering Foundation. He covered a 1960 uni-gov movement in Dayton for the Journal Herald.
Adavantages of unified government
- Better economic development
- More clout in statewide issues
- Enhance region’s ability to attract businesses
- Align the government with common interests
The Dayton Daily News began coverage of discussions on merging Montgomery County’s jurisdictions into one, consolidated region in 2011, when County Commissioner Dan Foley first brought the topic forward. Reporter Joanne Huist Smith traveled to Louisville in June 2011, to look at the success and struggles of that city, the nation’s poster child for consolidated government. The newspaper is committed to providing in-depth coverage as the current movement to form a more unified government in Montgomery County unfolds.