In recent weeks, I have noticed a tendency in the Columbus Dispatch (example) to favor a major reduction in the number of school districts and local governmental entitities. As a general rule, I am not in favor of consolidating anything, because consolidation is a centralizing tendency; and I favor the gradual abolition of the public education system in favor of vouchers to the private school of the parents’ choice.
In a few instances, consolidation might make sense. For example, in Franklin County, there are a few remnants of townships that occupy small non-contiguous areas that lead to extremely inefficient government. These remnants probably should be merged with neighboring townships if possible, and with municipalities if not; but this is a relatively unusual situation that exists only in large urban counties.
The drive for consolidation comes from two legitimate concerns: lack of accountability, because local governments do not report financial statistics in a way that enables them to be collected for review and comparison; and the proliferation of special districts for various purposes. Special districts historically have been created because the Revised Code has lacked flexibility in defining the functions of county or local government. In other instances, they have been created to address a local turf battle. In addition, this problem has led to numerous exceptions and extra clauses within the Revised Code itself.
The solution to these problems is really quite simple, but as with other simple solutions, will require a special measure of political will. Only three laws are needed.
First, the General Assembly should abolish statutory county, township, and municipal government by writing model charters for counties, cities, villages, and townships that essentially contains the features of the existing statutes. The model charter would not apply to any government that already has a charter of its own. The act, if it were adopted by the next General Assembly, would replace statutory rule with the model charters on January 1, 2015. In the meantime, counties, cities, villages, and townships could create charter commissions to amend the model charter as desired. On the same date, all special exceptions in the Revised Code related to county and local governments would be repealed.
Secondly, all special districts, except multi-county districts, will be merged with the next larger unit of government. For example, a police district that consists of part of a township would be run by the township trustees. Vocational school districts formed from several districts within a county would be run by the county board of education. They would either be run solely for the benefit of the taxpayers paying the taxes; or the larger unit could vote itself the same tax to broaden the area of service. Most "regional transit authorities" could be run as part of county governments.
Finally, all local governments would be required to issue a financial report in a state-standard format to the County Auditor and the State Auditor. While it would be the County Auditor’s responsibility to recommend solutions to problems found within the reports, the State Auditor would collect and report the statistics statewide. This relationship is similar to the reporting of election statistics by county Boards of Election to the Secretary of State.
In this way, we can achieve much greater efficiency while sacrificing very little local control.