BUTLER TWP. — Local elected officials expressed their frustration state lawmakers and policy makers at a joint meeting Monday evening at the Butler Township Hall.
Members of the Vandalia City Council, Vandalia-Butler Board of Education, and Butler Township Trustees held a roundtable discussion that ended with an agreement to work together to battle what they see as interference from Columbus. Another meeting will be scheduled in the next couple of months to discuss next steps.
School Superintendent Bradley Neavin shared a resolution passed by the Board of Education to take back local control of schools. He said that the resolution was sent to the Governor’s office as well as local representatives and senators.
“This resolution was aimed at taking control of schools and placing it where it belongs – the local community,” said Neavin.
Neavin pointed to the recent decision to change the state’s testing model as an example of how citizens can mobilize to affect change.
“That change was made because legislators were feeling the pressure from average folks,” said Neavin. “They are scared to death we are talking tonight. We are starting to find out that townships and cities are having some of the same issues. Now is not the time to back off, we are in a great spot to make an impact.”
Vandalia Mayor Arlene Setzer agreed, and implored the group to find common ground for action.
“I’d like to come up with a consolidated effort to go forth and take action,” said Setzer. “When you send a letter to your representative you end up getting some regurgitated form letter from an aide. There may be some efforts we can take to put pressure on the senators and legislators who hold positions of power that can help.”
Vandalia City Manager Jon Crusey discussed the impact of House Bill 5 that is standardizing local income tax across the state – but at the expense of cities such as Vandalia. He also spoke to the cuts to the Local Government Fund.
“While the state is increasing its rainy day fund by 60 percent, the state has reduced Local Government Funds by 50 percent,” said Crusey. “We (Vandalia) are getting $700,000 less since 2010. The state calls it ‘redirecting.” They have ‘redirected’ Local Government Funds from the cities to the state. They are ‘redirecting’ Local Government Funds from the cities to townships.”
The Ohio budget approved this summer will redirect $2.7 million dollars from cities in Montgomery County while returning just under $200,000 of those funds to townships in the county – a net loss of nearly $2.5 million county wide.
Additionally, the Vandalia-Butler Schools will receive about $550,000 less in state funding in the second year of that budget while Oakwood, Dayton’s wealthiest suburb, will see an increase of five percent.
Board of Education member George Moorman said local tax dollars should stay in local communities.
“First priority to me is how do we keep our local tax dollars here, how do we use local dollars to educate our kids, pave our roads?” he asked. “We have a community here where we all serve the same taxpayers.”
“This is an issue we all agree on – the local retention of tax dollars,” said Board of Education member Mary Kilsheimer. “That is a message I think we can rally our community around.”
“Those are our taxpayer’s dollars,” said Neavin. “When people pay taxes, they aren’t wanting their money to go to fill the state’s Rainy Day fund, they are paying taxes to pay for services.”
“The state is balancing its budget, but its doing so by going through our swimming pools, our schools, our roads, and shorting local communities,” said Lewis.
Butler Township has placed a Limited Home Rule measure on the ballot in November, a measure designed to increase the Township’s ability to “control what happens in the township,” according to Trustee Doug Orange. “With what’s going on in Columbus, we are just sick and tied of people outside the township telling us what we need to be doing in Butler Township.”
Several of the officials spoke to the spike in truck traffic since the P & G distribution center opened in Union and voiced frustration that local governments have little to no power to do anything about it.
“We have been thwarted at every angle to control truck traffic, but we aren’t just going to roll over here,” said Vandalia City Councilman Dave Lewis. “It has certainly impacted all of our communities with trucks running right through town and it will get worse, not better.”
“Truck traffic is here to stay,” said Orange. “It is a byproduct of development in that area. We aren’t going to be able to get rid of it, but we hope to make it a little better.”
Setzer believes that legislators must be forced to listen.
“We have to be more aggressive with the legislators and senators,” she said. “They have affected us with all the laws they have passed. We have to vet the local people who want us to represent us at the state level. It is to our benefit to know if they are willing to learn, willing to listen, or instead be guided by some other entity.”
Board of Education President Bruce Sucher said that real change can only be made with the support of the community, and other communities around the state.
“Between all of us, we are only 15 people with voices that our legislators hear from time to time,” he said. “If you get citizens involved, and other communities talking, change can happen.”
Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.