Fulton County Commissioners on Thursday denied petitions from the villages of Archbold and Delta to formally separate from their associated townships, although one of the votes came with a split decision.
While the commissioners roundly voted against Delta’s request to split from Swancreek and York townships, Commissioner Bill Rufenacht was the sole positive vote for Archbold’s petition to cut ties with German Township. He would not comment following the vote.
The commissioners’ decisions end a sometimes rancorous and emotional six-month campaign by the villages to end their official involvement with their respective townships. In June, a joint statement released by the villages of Archbold, Delta, and Swanton spelled out their reasons for wanting separation, including complaints of overlapping governments and double taxation. The villages also complained of conflicts with the townships involving representation, economic stability, and cooperation for general stability.
Swanton Village Council passed a first reading in favor of formal separation from Swancreek and Fulton townships, but the village council did not have any more votes. In an effort to ease a point of contention residents had over being taxed doubly for a fire levy, Swanton approved township fire contracts that include payments to the village.
Prior to Thursday’s vote, Rufenacht told concerned citizens filling the chamber that while the involved townships displayed concern for their incorporated portions “I’m thinking that their actions have not exactly shown that.”
He said arguments that the relationship between Archbold and German Township has always operated in the present form doesn’t sway his opinion.
“I just don’t believe in that exactly – that just the way it’s always been is a good reason to continue with anything, because we would still be in covered wagons, we would still be in stagecoaches, whatever, if it was the way it’s always been. That, itself, in my view, is not a reason to keep the two entities combined,” he said.
Rufenacht added that an option for separation exists in the Ohio Revised Code stipulation that until a municipality reaches a population of 5,000 people it’s not permitted to automatically separate from associated townships.
Commissioner Paul Barnaby was visibly upset over the village petitions, and eager to declare a negative vote. Standing to address chamber visitors, and with a booming voice, he said he’s served as a commissioner for 16 years, “and I didn’t come on as a person that was going to divide the county. I shant. I think it’s terrible.”
He said individuals who want to re-conform village boundaries to add citizens should buy land and build houses rather than divide people.
“Fulton County is Fulton County because we rub elbows and shake hands with everybody, not be mad,” he said.
Commissioner Jeff Rupp said he studied the issue in depth by reading statute law and judicial opinions, studying what other municipalities have done in similar situations, and garnering comments from village and township residents. He said as villages grow and take on civic responsibilities traditionally belonging to townships the need for two governments within the village lessens, and becomes unnecessary.
“This is the point that the villages of Archbold and Delta have decided that they are at,” Rupp said.
As for complaints that village citizens are double-taxed to pay for road maintenance outside the village limits, it’s also true that township residents living outside of but working within the village pay an income tax on their earnings they didn’t vote on and have no say about, he said.
The township form of government, and how townships and villages interact “is an issue that, moving forward, needs to be addressed,” Rupp added. “However, while unilaterally making changes here today to this form of government may satisfy some of the existing issues to this form of government, and some of the issues that the village leaders believe they have, it will not address all of the issues that would face the townships of the future, especially the issue of long-term funding.”
Those issues require attention at the state level, and some related statutes might need changing to protect townships from harm, he said.
Following the vote, Rufenacht encouraged the entities involved to let go of residual anger.
“I think we look at the other person’s point of view, and say they were doing what they thought was best for the people they represent. And so, I hope we can go forward from this point, and leave the animosity behind,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.