Monroe officials consider forming ‘paper township’

A presentation last week on the current make-up of the Monroe Community Improvement Corporation to Monroe City Council evolved into a preliminary discussion on whether the city should create its own township.

Councilman Todd Hickman questioned the operation of the area CIC that represents the city, the Monroe Local Schools and Lemon Twp., and if it was acting as required by state law. He also questioned why Lemon Twp. has a seat on the CIC board, yet did not provide funding for the organization.

“I believe the city needs to have its own CIC,” Hickman said. “The CIC does nothing for Lemon Twp. This should be a city CIC.”

After the presentation, Hickman advocated that the city begin looking into creating a “paper township” in which its boundaries would be the city’s corporation limits.

Council members passed a motion for City Manager Bill Brock to bring information back to them in May about creating a paper township.

Once created, the paper township would not act as a functioning unit of local government and would allow a municipality to be completely independent of the real township from which it was created. However, a paper township cannot receive territory from an adjoining township.

Currently, there are three townships that are inside the city’s corporation limits: Lemon and Liberty Twps., and Turtlecreek Twp. in Warren County. State law requires a separate paper township be created in Turtlecreek as township borders cannot cross county lines. However, this would have no effect on the boundaries of the Monroe Local School District as that is considered a different type of political subdivision.

As the city grew through annexations, it never withdrew from any of those townships. Because of that, township residents are able to vote for City Council members and city issues as well as for township trustees and some township issues. It also means that property owners pay taxes that go to both entities through the inside millage, which is the unvoted taxes used to operate local government.

For the 2014 tax year, city residents will pay 0.60-mills to Lemon Twp. , yet all of their services such as police, fire, public works are provided through their tax dollars paid to the city of Monroe. City residents pay 0.59-mills to Liberty Twp., and 0.61-mills in Turtlecreek Twp. in Warren County.

Warren County Auditor Matt Nolan said if Monroe created a paper township on that side of the county line, Turtlecreek Twp. would lose $29,400 a year in inside millage. Nolan also noted that many of the parcels in that area are in Tax Increment Financing Districts. However, once those TIF’s expire, Turtlecreek Twp. would lose another $13,000 in inside millage.

As the land area is reduced through the creation of a paper township, so are the tax revenues to provide basic services that are directly provided or are contracted to neighboring jurisdictions or to the county.

According to the Butler County Auditor’s Office, Lemon Twp. received $148,000 from the inside millage that was paid for tax year 2013 by property owners who live inside Monroe’s corporate limits. The 2014 property taxes are still being collected.

The financially challenged township’s 2014 general fund budget was about $974,000 that also included about $458,000 in carry over from 2013.

Mayor Robert Routson, a former Lemon Twp. trustee and whose son, Joe, is a current trustee, asked what the city would like to do with the inside and outside millage.

Council members Steve Black and Dan Clark agreed with Routson, saying the city needs to evaluate the potential financial impact if it goes the paper township route.

“Do you think our residents want to pay Lemon Twp. taxes?” Hickman asked. “Our residents pay in all three townships the inside taxes (millage) to them, but we get no services back.”

He later suggested that the city should put a referendum on the ballot for residents to decide if the city should secede from Lemon Twp.

Routson said the city needs to be thinking regionally as they do with the Butler County Transportation Improvement District and also pointed out the city will still need to work with the townships.

Lemon Twp. Trustee Janet Majors told the Journal-News on Monday that she did not know about the city considering this option until contacted by this newspaper.

“I have not heard anything about this,” Majors said. “Monroe has not talked to me or any of the other trustees to my knowledge, and this has not been discussed by the other trustees.”

The township had 36 square miles when it was formed in 1803, shortly after Butler County was created that same year. Since then, the township’s territory has been shrinking due to the creation of Madison Twp. in 1810 and through the 1990s as Middletown and Monroe have annexed all but a few small portions that are not contiguous.

While on paper there are 15.3 square miles and an estimated 2013 population of 13,875, those figures include portions of the cities of Middletown and Monroe. In reality, when the portions of the township that lie within the corporate limits of both cities are subtracted, the actual area within the township trustee’s jurisdiction drops by nearly two-thirds and its population drops even more.

According to the Butler County Engineer’s Office, Lemon Twp. is actually 4.3 square miles and is responsible for about 11.4 center-line miles of township roads. The actual township population also drops to 2,324 people, about three-fourths smaller when it had a population of about 8,000 in 1990.