Township Administrator’s Corner by Vito Sinopoli

Optimism and enthusiasm for the new year ahead are the focus of Bath Township’s elected officials and leadership team as 2024 gets underway. As part of that path ahead, a newly elected township fiscal officer, Ms. Jen Hardin, will embark on a commitment of service to the community, working as an integral part of the local government team. As Bath Township welcomes Ms. Hardin to her new role, the township’s leadership as a whole continues to examine the needs of the community and adapt to changes that will ensure its long-term sustainability.

While the township seeks to explore ways to improve services, it must do so within the parameters of state laws that apply to townships. Many residents are surprised to learn the unique nature of the local government that serves the community, as compared to other forms of local government. That distinction is significant, particularly as it relates to the limits of authority imposed on a township.

Bath Township is one of 1,308 townships in Ohio whose unique form of government derives its authority from the Ohio Revised Code. Townships are statutorily created local governments that exercise only those powers specifically provided under Ohio law. Each township is a body politic, which has been granted specific kinds of authority: some responsibilities are required, some permitted and others prohibited.

The origins of Ohio townships date back to the formation of the Ohio Territory and Northwest Ordinance and are considered to be the first form of government. Blocks of land, each six square miles in size, established local governments in the territory and, for the most part, the structure of township government has remained the same. Three elected trustees serve four-year terms and perform in a quasi-legislative/executive capacity.

A township’s fiscal officer is a separately elected township official who works in conjunction with the township’s board of trustees and is responsible for maintaining township financial accounts and recording the proceedings of the township. The board of trustees may appoint an administrator to oversee the day-to-day operations of the township and to prepare the annual budget required under law.

Townships are credited with being more efficient and effective than other forms of government. This is due in large part to the fact that township officials are better able to respond to local needs, as they remain closer to their constituents and don’t have layers of bureaucracy.

Townships vary greatly based on size, operating budget and services provided to township residents. According to the Ohio Township Association, data show that townships, or smaller governments, spend and borrow less, are less likely to be in fiscal distress, and are more cost effective by spending less per capita for essential services.

The majority of a township’s revenue is derived from property taxes on inside and outside millage. Townships rely almost exclusively on the local property tax for their funding and are not permitted to collect income taxes. As a percentage of the total property tax collection in the state, townships collect a small portion, accounting for 5.8% of total collections. Inside millage refers to un-voted millage which adjusts for property valuation increases and decreases.

The majority of all other township revenue, or outside millage, is derived from voted levies and must be expended for specific limited purposes. Outside millage is prohibited by state law to increase with annual property valuations for residential property; therefore, revenues remain constant during the life of the levy because they are assessed against the value of property in the year the levy was passed. A levy passed in one year generates nearly the same amount of revenue ten years later.

As a result of this reduction factor, communities must periodically increase or replace millage with new levies to keep pace with rising operational costs, which are subject to inflationary increases. Despite ever-increasing costs for providing services to residents, our township continues to make the most of the resources available and to ensure our community is kept safe.

Remaining township revenues are generated through several other sources, including intergovernmental sources, permits and fees, grants and interest. Townships most commonly provide residents with services such as road maintenance, cemetery management, police protection, fire protection, emergency medical services, solid waste disposal and zoning.

In Bath, the road department maintains approximately 62 miles of township roads integrated within a structure of county roads. The maintenance of township roads is one of the mandatory functions of Ohio’s townships and includes such activities as snow removal, road repairs and maintenance. Ohio townships also receive a small part of the state’s motor vehicle license fees and gasoline tax to fund road maintenance.

As noted, state laws authorize Ohio townships to perform mandated functions, which are required, and permissive functions, which refer to discretionary actions. While townships have powers to enact and enforce ordinances, such as zoning and planning, a township’s board of trustees cannot raise taxes on its own. When a township’s board of trustees determines that additional revenues are necessary to maintain or increase current service levies, it can decide to place the issue before the voters. A majority vote of the electorate is required to pass the issue. In that way, levies allow voters to choose to raise the money to support the services they demand as residents.

Keeping our township strong and fiscally viable is a key component of the work that is done on an administrative level each and every day. Decisions that are made by the Bath Township Board of Trustees, working together with the fiscal officer and the administrator, are made after careful consideration and with the best interest of the township as a whole in mind. Understanding the parameters of authority within which Bath Township local government is permitted to operate is crucial to the partnership between residents and the local government that serves them. ∞