Swanton merger debatedWritten by Justin R. Kalmes | | email@example.com
A proposal to merge the village of Swanton with its surrounding townships has residents in those communities concerned their rural lifestyle could be in jeopardy. The man behind the idea says that’s not the case and believes the plan will lower taxes, promote economic development and streamline government.
So goes the argument between Swanton Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Neil Toeppe, who hopes to merge the village of Swanton with Swanton and Harding townships in Lucas County, and Fulton and Swancreek townships in Fulton County, and those who disapprove of the proposed municipality that would form a city of about 14,000 residents.
“It’s going to eliminate four townships and it’s going to cause lifestyle changes and a raise in taxes for all these people,” said R.J. Lumbrezer, a Royalton Township resident who is president of the Fulton County Township Association.
Toeppe said residents of the outlying rural areas would be able to protect their way of living because they would have a majority of representation on the governing body that would form with the merger. He said those opposing the idea mostly come from areas that won’t be affected should the change take place.
“The township associations rather than the township residents are really driving this opposition train,” Toeppe said. “It’s my sense that they want to retain the status quo.”
Toeppe said he believes the proposed municipality could operate on a 0.75 percent income tax, thus eliminating individual taxes residents pay to the townships and village involved. Those with low incomes and high property taxes would see a tax reduction, he said, while those with high incomes and low property taxes would see a tax increase.
Those with median incomes and median home values would see little or no change to their tax bills, Toeppe said.
“Everybody’s going to be paying at the same rate,” he said.
Despite Toeppe’s claims, Fulton Township resident John Weber said he doesn’t believe a municipality spanning an area of nearly 100 square miles could be operated with only a 0.75 percent income tax. Weber, who chairs the “Stop the Merger” committee, said the City of Oregon, which covers about 27 squares miles, has a 2.25 percent income tax to cover the cost of police and fire protection.
“The incomes in [the proposed merger] areas are comparable to Maumee and Perrysburg,” he said. “We don’t believe that they’re going to get the services that they deserve for paying those taxes.”
As for eliminating township taxes in favor of Toeppe’s proposed income tax, Weber said he would have to earn less than $20,500 annually to break even with the $154 in taxes he pays every year to Fulton Township.
“There would be a lot of new tax for me and others,” Weber said.
Though those against his plan claim township government is most efficient, Toeppe said combining those bodies into one six-person city council and a mayor would reduce annual governing costs from $200,000 to $50,000.
Lumbrezer said having four elected officials in each township best serves residents in those communities.
“The further removed the representatives get from the people, the less likely they are to spend your money efficiently,” he said.
Petitions are circulating in the affected communities to decide whether to form five-member merger commissions that would put together a “blueprint” for what the new municipality would look like in terms of a charter, tax structure and form of government, Toeppe said. Those petitions must be filed no later than mid-August, he said.
Citizens could then vote in November whether to form merger commissions. If such committees are formed, residents could vote in November 2008 to approve or disapprove forming the municipality.
The Stop the Merger committee has scheduled a 7 p.m. Feb. 26 community meeting in the Swanton High School auditorium. Toeppe’s next presentation on behalf of the Swanton Area Chamber of Commerce is set for 7 p.m. March 14 at the same location.