With petition submitted, the future of Clarksville government in question

Issue may go to ballot

By Gary Huffenberger - ghuffenberger@civitasmedia.com

CLARKSVILLE — Village council has been petitioned to provide a special election in which residents would decide whether to dissolve the village’s government.

“At some point you have to ask the question — not can we save the village? — but should we? Is it going to be too much of a burden on the residents to save the village [government]. That’s really what it comes down to for me,” said Darrell Wilson, a petition circulator and the person who presented the petition to Clarksville Village Council.

The Ohio Revised Code permits incorporated villages to surrender their corporate powers. One procedure to do that calls for a petition signed by at least 40 percent of the village electors, followed by a special election on whether the village government powers should come to an end.

Those who favor dissolving the Clarksville government often believe that resolving problems such as the Village’s financial condition is beyond the means of village council “without imposing additional financial hardship” on the village citizens, “many of which are of modest means to begin with,” Wilson stated in an open letter to village officials that accompanied the petition.

In a News Journal interview, Wilson said he gives Mayor John Neeley Jr. a lot of credit, saying he’s done a lot of work.

“If hard work and elbow grease would have gotten this job done, he could have gotten it done. But unfortunately, this village has just got too big of a hole and too small of a shovel, and despite John’s good intentions, I don’t see that he’s going to be able to get us out of fiscal emergency,” said Wilson, a former council member.

Neeley, for his part, is against dissolving the town’s government, saying he doesn’t think it is what’s best for the village.

If dissolution were to occur, more than likely it would be Vernon Township that would “absorb” the community, said Neeley. He thinks that situation would affect how tight-knit the Clarksville community would be in the future.

The mayor added Clarksville presently has street lights, and he thinks those are probably something that would go by the wayside if the village government is dissolved. “The town will be dark,” he said.

Neeley said he’s heard from some Vernon Township officials they don’t want the debt the Village is in.

The debt the Village has will not go away if the government dissolves, said Neeley. Whoever takes over the village would also have to take on the debt associated with the Village, he said.

As for the financial woes of the Village, the mayor is optimistic the 1 percent income tax that went into effect July 1, 2016 will help, although it will not fix things overnight.

Noting he became mayor in January 2016, Neeley said officials have been working to try to get some of the debt under control, but the debt was created over several years and it can’t be paid overnight.

It will take a while to get everything under control and paid off, he said.

According to Wilson, among the factors contributing to people considering a dissolution of the village government are a water debt owed to Western Water of close to $600,000, as well as the general fund and trash fund being in the red.

The Environmental Protection Agency, he said, has advised it is hard to maintain a utility structure with so few households.

Wilson spoke of the fiscal emergency declared in September 2015. Past due accounts payable, deficit fund balances and a treasury deficiency led Auditor of State Dave Yost to place the Village of Clarksville in a state of fiscal emergency, according to a media release at the time from the Auditor of State.

The same release mentioned that the Village of Clarksville was placed on the “unauditable” list in August 2013. When the audit was released in March 2015, it found a former village administrator illegally adjusted utility accounts to the tune of $23,000, stated the release.

In the release Yost stated, “My office will assist where we can to help the village develop a plan to regain financial stability.”

In that respect, the Auditor of State’s release indicated the Auditor’s Office would serve as the financial supervisor for the village, and have all the powers and responsibilities of a Financial Planning and Supervision Commission.

Current Clarksville Village Council member Kip Thomas said he signed the petition, adding that the petition calls for the residents themselves to make the decision on dissolution.

Thomas said he personally favors dissolving the village government.

Current Clarksville Village Council member Allen Wood also signed the petition as an individual citizen.

“Here’s the thing. It’s only a petition to put the question on the ballot, not a petition to dissolve. Let the people decide; I do believe people should have a right to decide,” said Wood.

Wood recommends voters “look at all sides.” If it goes to the ballot, he said it will be “my choice how to vote.”

Wilson praised council members and the mayor for waiving their pay in response to the fiscal emergency. He also said all six council members were appointed rather than elected.

Wilson plans to be at a 6:30 p.m. regular village council meeting this coming Monday, Nov. 28, and said he would ask the mayor why he called off a special meeting that was going to deal with the petition.

Neeley told the News Journal that he spoke with the state auditor’s office and they are not aware of a 10-day deadline for the petition. The mayor said he wanted to get more information from other resources and gain more knowledge before moving forward on the petition.

Wilson stated in his open letter that if the “unsustainable utilities” are removed, then “the remaining [government-provided] services could easily, and more cost effectively, be provided by the township.”

He said in the interview, “We feel like we can make a case [for dissolution], and if people decide they want to continue to support the village structure, then I’d be all for that. I do think people should decide, and we should have a clear understanding of what we’re getting for what we’re paying for.”

Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.

Issue may go to ballot

By Gary Huffenberger