If Rogers knocks, will township answer?

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NEGLEY- Middleton Township trustees are saying they were not invited to a Rogers City Council meeting in October.

During the township's regular meeting Monday the board referenced a story in Saturday's Journal in which it was stated the board had reportedly been invited to the meeting but did not show.

The October meeting focused on discussing the possible dissolving of the incorporated village. Should it dissolve, it will be the responsibility of Middleton Township, which encompasses that small area.

Rogers has a population of 237 people and owes the state auditor's office roughly $50,000 for routine annual audits dating back 10 years. The debt is only about $18,000 shy of the village's yearly operating budget.

Chapman said Beech had told him not to give any advice or information to Rogers officials.

Middleton Trustee Eldena Gearhart said the board was not notified of the meeting, but Fiscal Officer Bob Chapman was, and he did not attend after speaking with their legal counsel, Andy Beech, a member of the county prosecutor's office.

"I called our legal prosecutor and he said that wasn't our place to answer any questions, and I didn't know what to say anyhow, I figured that was their solicitor's job," Chapman said, referring to Rogers Solicitor Michelle Simonelli. "We don't have any opinions. We don't have any advice."

According to Chapman, Rogers Mayor Sharon Hebron called him seeking information regarding what would happen to the village's levies should it be dissolved.

Gearhart said Chapman told the board he was contacted and they did not attend the meeting because they assumed the information being sought had to do with financial matters, which is Chapman's area of expertise.

She went on to say that if they had attended the meeting, they would have been present as concerned residents of the township, not to offer advice.

On Tuesday Hebron verified she did speak with Chapman, and was seeking information pertaining to what would happen to the village's levies should it dissolve.

"When I called him he said we'd have to contact the auditor's office because he didn't have that information. I do believe I said they'd (council) like somebody from the township to come to the meeting," she said.

She went on to say village officials were reaching out to the township because most council members are fairly new, and "we have never dissolved a village before."

Hebron, who will no longer be mayor as of January, said the village is trying to weigh the pros and cons of the matter before making any decisions.

"Right now what we are trying to do is save the village, so we are trying to get information from anybody we can who is going to help us. I don't know what will happen. Nobody knows what will happen. We are hoping the people of the village will pull together and try to save the village," she said.

She anticipates the decision to dissolve would have to be made by a ballot vote.

As for the information she was seeking from Chapman, she said once he told them to contact the auditor's office she believes Simonelli did so.

"Chapman was helpful. I haven't talked to any of the trustees. A couple of our council people said they were going to talk to them, because we are trying to get all the information we can to present to the people of the village," she said.

She added she didn't reach out personally to the trustees because she figured if Chapman didn't have the information she was looking for, they wouldn't either.

Township resident Greg Lipp, who will replace Gearhart on the township board in January, asked Chapman during the Monday meeting what would happen if Rogers dissolves.

Chapman said the township would receive their tax dollars and gasoline money for the roughly six miles of additional roads it would be responsible for, but any money received would be small compared to the overall debt.

"I'm assuming we would get their property tax money, so yes we would get some money," he said.

Gearhart pointed out that if the township does become responsible for Rogers, a portion of the village's money would already be designated for paying off the debt.

"Basically, you are going to inherit their debt," Lipp said.

John Goempel, the chief deputy county auditor, said Tuesday that according to Ohio law the village's assets and liability would transfer to the township, and any taxes due would still be due.

He said he gave Hebron that same information via e-mail after she contacted him a few weeks ago. He also said he told her they should refer to Simonelli for any future questions.

"I'm not an attorney, I'm not allowed to give legal advice," he added.

He then said the village is currently collecting taxes on a total of 5.7 mills, and of that 2.7 mills are permanent inside millage with the remaining voter approved.

Voters passed a 1 mill levy for fire and EMS services in 2010 that brings in $2,200 annually and will be collected through 2015.

In 2012, voters approved a 2-mill current expenses levy that generates $4,600 a year and will be collected through 2017.

The permanent inside millage generates $6,100 a year.

"They are only bringing in about $12,900 annually," he said.

Meanwhile, village officials are currently weighing the possibility of enacting a 1 percent income tax that would generate an additional $17,000 in revenue annually.

Chapman said the village's assets include the former church they are now using as a village hall. The church was purchased for $42,000 and council members have suggested selling it to get out from underneath the debt.