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Village of Somerville may soon cease to exist

The village of Somerville could soon be just a fond memory.

Voters in the village of 283 people will be asked to decide in March whether the community should continue to exist as an incorporated area or dissolve into Milford Twp. Dissolving the village is something residents have been talking about for 30 years, Somerville Mayor Paul Saurber said.

“Some people may feel it’s a sad day, but that’s why we circulated the petitions, and we want the voters to speak their minds and have a say if they want the village to dissolve,” said Saurber, who is stepping down as mayor at the end of the year and moving out of the village after five years as a resident.

It is rare in Ohio for an incorporated entity to file for dissolution, and Butler County Board of Elections officials say there hasn’t been such a vote in this county in recent memory. The last village known to have dissolved in Ohio was New Rome, which was described as a “speed trap village” because its primary source of income was traffic tickets. It was dissolved by a Franklin County Common Pleas judge in 2004.

Somerville Village Council met Sunday in a special session where it voted unanimously to place an issue on the March 15 primary ballot to “surrender its corporate powers.” Dan Tierney, of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, said should voters pass the issue, the governing of Somerville “returns to whatever township its boarders fall in.”

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Somerville is located between Hamilton and Eaton in Milford Twp. and sits on the Butler-Preble county line.

The village, incorporated in 1832, operates on a budget of between $47,000 to $50,000 a year, officials said, which primarily pays for mowing grass, cleaning streets and salt and snow removal. The village employs a full-time fire chief, but the department consists of all volunteers, one of whom is the mayor. The Butler County Sheriff’s Office patrols the village, but not on contract, Saurber said.

Milford Twp. Fiscal Officer Mollie Hansel, who also serves as Somerville’s fiscal officer, said a lack of people wanting to be involved in the village’s government, coupled with the fact that the village for years has “scraped by with limited resources,” has prompted the move toward dissolution.

Hansel said there will be no leadership in the village as of Dec. 31 as the mayor and two council members will have their terms end at the end of the year and the other two council members have tendered their resignations. No one in the village ran for election or re-election, she said.

“What else are you going to do?” Hansel said.

Saurber said because there will essentially be no council at the beginning of next year that means no legislative actions will be able to take place such as hiring of personnel and major purchases, to name a few. The village’s clerk, fire chief and street director would basically just be maintaining the status quo until the vote, he said.

Paul Gillespie, vice president of the Milford Township Board of Trustees, said possibly dissolving Somerville has been talked about for years.

“And we’re ready to accept it,” he said, referring to the township taking over governing responsibilities.

It seems some village residents are ready to accept it too.

“I kinda think it would help the town. I would vote yes,” resident Wilma Dunkelberger said of dissolving Somerville.

She described Somerville as “a family community” where people usually help one another, especially those in need.

“I just think it’s like everything else, it comes down to economics,” Dunkelberger said. “The younger people don’t know and don’t care. I, myself, can see the advantages if it does go to the township.”

Resident Josh Zimmerman said the village would be better off if it dissolved.

“I think it would be better under the township because there would be a broader array of people involved with running the town,” he said.

The issue to dissolve the village was filed with the board of elections on Monday, and must still be certified before landing on the spring election ballot. There were less than 60 ballots cast the last time Somerville placed an issue before voters in 2013.

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