Group launches Dayton-Montgomery County merger effort

A group of local leaders on Thursday announced they are going to design a plan to merge the city of Dayton and Montgomery County governments and hope to present it for county-wide vote next year.

Combining the city and county could create a more efficient system of government that makes the region more economically competitive, representatives of Dayton Together, a nonprofit organization interested in regionalization, said Thursday. But a detailed charter will need to be created, then a plan would have to be approved by a county-wide vote.

“There will be no change without the vote of the people,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley, one of the founders of Dayton Together.

The group intends to draft a proposed charter, and hopes to have the document completed by December. The charter concept under consideration is modeled after the 2003 consolidation of the city of Louisville, Ky., and Jefferson County, Ky.

Forming a new metropolitan government could provide a unified voice and vision for the community while increasing its economic influence, supporters said.

“There are a lot of factors that lead to economic competitiveness, but we do believe the structure of local government has a significant impact and is a big piece of it,” Foley said.

But critics said consolidation threatens to eliminate local control of government in Dayton.

Some people have questioned the benefits of a merger, and others have said they are worried it would wipe out the political strength and influence of Dayton’s black population.

The city of Dayton and Montgomery County’s economic clout has eroded because of losses in population, industry and jobs, said U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice, who is a member of Dayton Together.

This region needs to adapt to a changing, global economy, and local government should be structured in such a way to best help the community thrive, Rice said.

Dayton Together has formed a charter committee that will host conversations with Montgomery County citizens to find out if and how they would like to change the 200-year-old structure of government, he said. The input will help shape a blueprint for combining the jurisdictions.

“We all firmly believe … that we would be doing a tremendous disservice to our community today and far into the future if we don’t have this community conversations at this very time,” Rice said.

A merger could save jurisdictions money and reduce or eliminate service duplication, supporters said.

The merger would unite the community and give it a stronger voice, said Paula MacIlwaine, a former Montgomery County commissioner who serves on the Dayton Together steering committee.

The Dayton region competes with other metro areas that have adopted new, bold forms of government that give them advantages for luring investment and workers, said Brother Raymond L. Fitz, the former president of the University of Dayton who is on the steering committee.

It is time to explore how a new innovative form of government could benefit this region and reduce fragmented, he said.

The Louisville consolidation model provides the kind of unified government structure metro areas need to succeed in the increasingly competitive global economy, supporters said.

“We all know that no positive transformation takes place without difficult conversations,” he said.

Most importantly, a merger could boost the Dayton region’s profile and economic pull and competitiveness, said Foley.

A combined Dayton-Montgomery jurisdiction would be the second largest municipality in the state, behind Columbus, Foley said.

Montgomery County has 28 local units of government for 535,000 residents, and the current system of government causes local jurisdictions to compete against one another and their economic development strategies often are out of alignment, he said.

Dayton Together will write a charter and plans to release it in December for the public to study and critique, Foley said.

The charter will spell out what the new metro government looks like, how services will be delivered, which officials would be elected, which officials would be appointed, how metro districts are drawn and other details, he said.

Foley said the goal is to put the charter on the ballot for voters to either approve or reject.

Thursday’s press conference and announcement drew concerns from some that a merger could hurt the political strength of minorities in the city of Dayton.

Derrick Foward, president of the Dayton Unit NAACP, said he has visited Louisville as part of earlier discussions of consolidation and learned that the political strength of its black population suffered after the merger.

“At least what I saw … was the disenfranchisement of a minority population,” he said.

And earlier this week, Mark Owens, Montgomery County Democratic Party chairman, accused Foley of not being transparent while trying to “drastically alter” the local government structure.

Owens questioned who was funding this effort and said he was troubled that Foley did not attempt to get the input of other office holders.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said the city supports regionalization efforts, but a city-county partnership would have to include a uniform tax structure, economic development policy, consistent zoning code and a defined plan to ensure the community continues to value diversity and inclusion.

“For us, it will be about what the charter says and how that affects representative government,” she said.

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