Plan would radically change city, county

Manager appointed by an elected council would lead.

By Cornelius Frolik

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A group of local community leaders on Thursday unveiled the details of a much-anticipated charter proposal to merge the city of Dayton and Montgomery County governments.

The plan, developed over six months by a committee with the nonprofit group Dayton Together, would create a metro government overseen by an elected council and a manager appointed by council members.

Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley, who co-chaired the charter committee, said the new model seeks to stem the tide of population loss and state funding reductions.

He said the current systems of local government are antiquated and too often result in


service duplication and jurisdictions competing with each other when cooperation is the key to effectively attract new jobs and investment.

“We believe we have created a better government, one that will allow us to compete economically, one that will help us tackle challenges like poverty around the same table,” Foley said.

However, some city and county officials have opposed the idea of the charter from the outset, saying combining only Dayton and Montgomery County is a bad idea with no obvious benefits.

“For all of the elected officials in the county, it’s just a colossal waste of time for all of us,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said Thursday.

New districts

The metro structure would feature a mayor selected by all county voters and 10 elected representatives from newly created geographic districts, including one at-large seat representing the entire county.

The new districts would have similar-sized populations and some would include residents from jurisdictions with similar characteristics and industrial compositions, committee members said.

Dayton Together members said they will not put the charter initiative on the ballot this year, but may do so next year, which would require collecting about 14,000 valid signatures, committee members said.

The group in coming months expects to conduct a financial study to determine if a merger would save taxpayers money.

“I don’t think there is anyone who worked on this project who wants to send a model to the community and ask for support if it isn’t going to save taxpayer dollars,” said Paul Leonard, committee co-chair and the former mayor of Dayton who also served as Ohio’s lieutenant governor.

In an exclusive interview with this newspaper on Thursday, Foley and three other members of the Dayton Together charter development committee shared a draft of a proposed charter that would fundamentally change Dayton’s and Montgomery County’s systems of government.

The Dayton City Commission and the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners would be eliminated.

The metro government would have a manager to lead the organization who is appointed by the council. The manger would oversee government departments and services including public safety, public service, administrative services, community and economic development and health and human services. The manager would appoint department heads.

Fewer elected top posts

Many current elected positions at the county level — including the sheriff, clerk of courts, auditor, treasurer, recorder, engineer and medical examiner — would be abolished and replaced with appointed positions.

“Every position would be appointed, except for the county prosecutor,” said Mike Kelly, committee member and the former city manager of Oakwood.

Many of the new geographic districts join jurisdictions. Washington Twp. and Centerville would be one district.

Riverside, Huber Heights and a small section of Dayton would be another.

The city of Dayton would be spread across about five districts. District 1 would consist entirely Dayton residents who live in the northern half of the city. District 2 would include most of the lower half of Dayton and small sections of Jefferson Twp.

Other parts of Dayton would be in a district with Trotwood and Harrison Twp.

Under the proposal, all cities, townships and villages except Dayton would retain their current local councils or governing bodies.

However, the jurisdictions also would be part of the geographic districts that elect county representatives on the 10-member Dayton metro panel. Local council members or trustees cannot also hold a seat on the proposed council.

The proposal does not impact local school districts.

The district boundaries were drawn to balance populations and attempt to keep districts compact, Foley said. Another goal was to unite communities with economic and industrial similarities, he said.

In District 6, the townships, cities and villages all have economies in which agriculture plays a major part.

District 5 joins together Vandalia, Butler Twp. and Englewood — communities with strong aerospace and logistics industries, Foley said.

Staying competitive

The region must adapt to remain economically competitive, and this plan seeks to accomplish the widely desired goals of making government more effective and economical, said Valerie Lemmie, a charter development committee member and Dayton’s former city manager.

The new structure should allow for more efficient service delivery by consolidating and sharing resources, said Lemmie, who served as Dayton’s top administrator from 1996 to 2002.

“We really have to come together and leverage our resources,” she said. “People want government to work well.”

Ohio has too many local governments that do the same things, and consolidation will help with economic development to cut down on unnecessary and harmful infighting and divisions, said Leonard.

He said reducing government costs would leave more money for reinvestment in the community.

The charter takes Dayton’s city-manager form of government and expands the framework to the county, he said.

Committee members hope other jurisdictions, such as Jefferson Twp., Harrison Twp., Riverside and Trotwood, will consider joining the merger, if the charter initiative heads to a vote.

“It’s about striving for efficiency of government and, frankly, putting everyone in the same boat so we’re working together instead of working against each other,” Leonard said.

Foley said the next step is to share the charter document with the public.

Dayton Together also plans to conduct a cost study to determine if merging the governments will save money.

Foley said the initiative likely will not move forward if it does not benefit taxpayers through cost savings.

“If the answer comes back we can’t save very much, then this probably isn’t going to go very far,” Foley said.

The region is struggling to compete for jobs and investment and innovative strategies and solutions are needed to reverse a variety of troubling trends, Foley said.

No. 2 in Ohio

Montgomery County’s population peaked at 606,000 in 1970 has fallen to about 533,116 residents today. The state projects the county’s population will decrease to 480,000 in 2040, Foley said.

The merger would make Dayton the second-largest city in Ohio by population, Foley said, trailing only Columbus, which has nearly 836,000 residents.

A larger population would increase this region’s economic clout, improve how its perceived and make it more attractive to site selectors, he said.

The current system of local government is more than 200 years old and is unsustainable, he said.

State funding reductions have forced local jurisdictions to pursue to tax levies, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently reported that Montgomery County is the second-highest taxed county in Ohio, Foley said.

“We’ve got good people working in a really out-of-date system,” he said. “We don’t think it has to be this way.”

Some local leaders have been quick to criticize the idea of a merger that merely involves Dayton and the county.

Mayor Whaley said Dayton Together has not been transparent or inclusive in its work to draft a charter.

She said the charter proposal would disenfranchise Dayton residents and significantly weaken the voting power of its minorities.

“Under this proposal — as we’ve said before — Dayton residents can no longer independently choose their elected leaders,” she said.

Whaley said she would support a regionalism plan that saves money, ensures minority participation and implements a fair tax structure county-wide.

But, she said, this plan achieves none of those goals.

Even some members of the 15-member charter development committee did not agree with the city-county merger proposal. Some said the proposal is doomed to fail and has no chance of being approved by voters.

Contact this reporter at 937-225-0749.