A proposed fee schedule for building inspection fees for the village of Harveysburg has residents up in arms with some questioning if the financially struggling village should continue to exist. And it’s not the first time dissolution has been brought up.
At a recent village council meeting, there was a third and final reading of an ordinance that would enact fees to apply for permits that some felt were excessive. Council approved the final public reading but paused voting to adopt the new fees.
Resident Mike Hatfield said more than 30 people attended the May 22 council meeting to object to the proposed fees and asked questions.
“We don’t live in Kettering, California or Cincinnati,” he said. “No one is happy with the fees they’re putting on us. We don’t understand their reasoning and we don’t need them sneaking around our backyards.”
Hatfield, who has lived in the village 70 years, said nearly half the village population lives below the poverty level and they don’t have the money for this.
“These are terrible economic times. They need to start out slow,” he said. “This needs to be refined and it needs more clarification.”
One example he gave was the $50 application or base fee. Hatfield felt that was excessive and other fees to do minor repairs to a home after a storm.
“This broke the camel’s back,” Hatfield said. “We all love our quiet little town. If they don’t do what we want them to do, we’ll seek dissolution.”
Council agreed to have a town hall meeting June 14 in the old school gym with residents to hash out the various issues. In addition, the mayor’s seat and two council seats will be up for election in November.
Another resident, Rick Duvelius, has lived in the village for 33 years and is a former village administrator and council member as well as serving on its board of zoning appeals.
He said the village is in disrepair and believes it has outlived its usefulness.
“Thirty years ago, the town was ripe for expansion due to its proximity to the DHL hub in Wilmington and to the (Caesar Creek State) park,” Duvelius said. “The town was full of senior citizens who had lived here all their lives and young people left and never came back.”
Duvelius said people come to the park and stay a day or two and is a madhouse on holiday weekends. He said they don’t stay for a week.
He said the east side of the village is in bad shape, citing the old high school next to the village office damaged with asbestos torn out and damaged windows; there is a huge oil tank near the lake; and old gas station underground tanks remain under the streets.
“We’re not getting anything for our money and it seems like it’s a waste of our money,” Duvelius said. “We can’t afford a (part-time) police department and it costs more to have part-time officers.”
He said he requested the radio log of Harveysburg police to get an idea of what types of calls they responded to and said the vast amount of the calls were for traffic stops.
Mayor Richard Verga said the proposed fees are intended to defray the salary of the part-time building inspector and said the residents seeking dissolution “are just making threats to get council’s attention as a last resort.”
“People are very frustrated and are very dissatisfied with the permit fees,” he said.
Verga, who has been mayor since 2008, said the building inspector suggested a fee schedule used by another community and said many things on the fee schedule did not apply to the village. He also agreed with the residents that the proposed fee schedule lacked definition and specificity. Verga said he and some council members are not on the same page on this and other issues.
He is hoping residents and council members hashing the issue out on June 14 will restore some order.
“A village this small doesn’t deserve this much turmoil,” Verga said. “I hope this piques community interest and makes the elected officials remember who they work for.”
Verga said the village operates on a general operating levy, a police levy, property taxes and a payment from the Ohio Renaissance Festival. He said the police and operating levies were put on the ballot a year early and both failed in 2022; and the agreement between the Ohio Renaissance Festival and the village has expired. The remainder of the village’s revenue comes from its traffic ticket fines from the Mayor’s Court.
He said the ticket revenue helps the village’s bottom line but denied Harveysburg is “a speed trap or ticket mill.”
Verga’s seat and the seat of two council members will be up for election this fall. Harveysburg, a Quaker village founded in 1829, was incorporated as a village in 1844. The village operates on a strong council, weak mayor form of government.
The owner of the Ohio Renaissance Festival is suing the village in Warren County Common Pleas Court to detach itself and return to Massie Twp.’s jurisdiction because council wanted to impose a ticket tax of as much as $2each.
David Ashcraft of Brimstone and Fire LLC, said the festival said Harveysburg gets the money but provides no services while Massie Twp. provides services but does not receive the money. He said they support the police department and pay Harveysburg police to help with traffic.
Ashcraft, whose team purchased the festival and property in 2015, said Ohio 73 is a busy highway and that the township can help with road services as well as the fire/EMS services they already provide.
Ashcraft said the civil case is in discovery and both parties will enter court ordered mediation to resolve the issues. The case is scheduled for trial in May 2024.
However, Verga said council is wary of imposing a basic 1% income tax on its residents, even though that amount of income tax can be imposed without a vote of the people.
As for the possible dissolution of the village, Verga said he’s aware of the petition being prepared and believes “village management,” what he calls council, brought this on themselves. He added that he and council have not been on the same page for the past few years.
He doesn’t see it happening and hopes common sense will prevail on both sides, “but maybe I’m being too optimistic.”
Mark Tipton, council president pro tempore, declined to comment on the matter and referred comment to Village Solicitor Chase Kirby.
Kirby said there are residents who are upset over the fee schedule but believes “it is something that can be easily resolved.” He also said any proposal to dissolve the village lacks any merit.