Citizen Auditor, Loren Sengstock, recently released a per capita analysis report for 2019 of the ten (10) largest communities in the Toledo Metropolitan Area (TMA). Mr. Sengstock is continuing a closer look at how local communities can be compared by seeing exactly where their tax dollars are sourced and on what governmental programs they are utilized in providing for the health, safety, and general welfare of their citizens/taxpayers.
In this article, were going to examine Sylvania Township and the City of Sylvania using the following per capita analysis (see charts below) based upon the 'Governmental Funds' (General, Special Revenue, Debt Service, and Capital Funds combined) of each community as compared to the Toledo Metro Area averages for revenues and expenses. Sounds simple but in order to attempt comparing the communities, the reader must first understand the different organizational structures of how any township and charter city must operate;
1.) All townships must operate on primarily property taxes vs. municipalities that have income taxes as primary and property taxes as a secondary form of tax revenue;
2.) Townships are controlled by the Ohio Constitution and the Ohio Revised Code and municipalities are controlled by the Ohio Constitution and a home rule 'city charter' as provided by the electorate of the municipality.
These are the major legal and organizational differences provided by 'we the people' because our State Constitution, City Charters, and the Ohio Revised Code(s) are Laws that directly or thru elected representatives are created, amended, and enforced by an electoral system in which 'we the people' have a vote. This is why voting is the backbone and means in which the people govern ourselves; although, it is also true that many citizens do not vote regularly and thereby by their own inaction create avenues for 'political corruption' to seep into the governmental mechanisms by which we all must live; so Vote..Vote...Vote... Like your future depended on it, because it does.
Many wonder why does a 'citizen auditor' exist, what earthly reason would drive someone to commit any portion of their life in the pursuit of transparency, accountability, and informing the general public as to how their government is providing for the health, safety, and general welfare of their fellow 'citizen/taxpayers'?
Well to be honest, it is both a blessing and a curse (as Adrian Monk, was fond of saying); I believe there is some force within me that drives me, in my case it is my Christian principles learned from the Bible and a desire to pursue the 'truth'.
My Christian heritage, love of Jesus, and being the fourth generation of immigrants that has created a desire to explore why government is misunderstood and so confusing. My mentor into government finance was Mr. Clayton Fischer, Auditor and Finance Director for the City of Sylvania, who would often say 'Government is simple, men make it complicated'. In the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, my love of balance, things always equaling, like debits equaling credits; these have been the catalyst for my unique mission in retirement. To those who are grateful for what I do, thank you; to those who say 'get a life man', I can only say sorry. I guess making a long story short; I must have a boring life to many but due to my physical challenges, it is exciting and rewarding to investigate and follow the money; God has given me a inquisitive mind, a desire, and fast typing fingers to offset my other challenges. It is an amazing adventure, to be driven by a desire and force which is often difficult to explain, except for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. It is what it is and my hope is to leave behind some of the knowledge learned in my lifetime and provide for my posterity. Enough of my personal issues, let's get onto the rest of this story.
Looking at the following exhibits; the entire report can be viewed at this website link: https://citizenauditorohio.com/lucas-county%2C-ohio ; you will see a picture developing, study these for a moment:
Many will immediately see the city spending $1,261 per capita while Sylvania Township is spending only $723, and ask why? Excellent question, here is one explanation; the city collects almost twice as much in income taxes and property taxes when combined, thereby having more to spend, just like anyone of us, if we have more we spend more. The total of average spending is difficult to compare on face value because the city is providing other services and programs provided for, by the people, in their City Charter; the township is providing similar services but within a different set of Laws; therefore a municipality must have a different objective as provided by Law for the other service programs it provides the residents.
In general, having worked in both Sylvania Township and the City of Sylvania (one in the zoning office and as Assistant Finance Director in the other respectively in my career) here are some of my observations:
The cities General Government costs are five times the townships – reason; the city has a larger service department, a engineering department, a full time legal department, an income tax department, and the city is required by City Charter to provide these departments and the programs to administer and enforce the regulations accordingly, the township uses the County departments for these services which means Lucas County, again whom we all fund thru other taxes, provides to townships per the Law;
The Ohio Constitution and State Legislature are the Laws governing how we the people provide for our governance which is known as 'the rule of Law'. A good example would be the Sylvania Municipal Court, the Law provides that only a municipality can provide this service; if the Law did not, we would end up in downtown Toledo with our parking violations or speeding tickets in Sylvania;
The differences could and do fill the Law books as to what municipalities and township can and cannot do within the Law.
There are some areas more easily comparable, such as 'public safety' (police, fire, ems, and dispatching), and in this area of governmental services, the city and township compare closely; primarily due to the Township/Cities unique authority to collect property taxes from both the city and township going to the township that used to provide fire and EMT services (police services are done independently); a concept of combining common services to each community, similar to collaboration (a negotiated agreement to share services), a buzz word heard more in the last 20 years or so, but accomplishing the same goal, providing fire and emergency medical services (including advanced life support) to multiple communities; here there is an obvious financial savings since both communities are spending below the average costs in the Toledo Metro Area, which benefits the taxpayers. Anytime you can eliminate duplicate administration there are obvious savings for taxpayers, even though we all often complain about our property tax bills, remember it can always be more costly, for example look at the costs in the Maumee and it will be more enlightening to taxpayers. We are all thankful and appreciate the service our fire/EMT personnel provide, however, the Fire/EMT folks should not take this positive financial explanation for a green light to seek more taxes but as a compliment and thank you for your continued goal of prudent use of our tax dollars in exchange for prompt and professional first class public safety services.
The city has more debt service per capita than the township; my opinion, is that townships tend to utilized the 'pay go' method (use cash and not debt, a save and pay as you go policy) much more than cities because they have to contend with more economically sensitive revenue sources like income taxes, they can generally accomplish more with debt issuance for infrastructure over time. Townships are required to seek voter approval for new or additional tax levies to fund building and capital projects and it is often challenging to get voters on board. These differing philosophies have evolved over time in response to the legal issues distinguishing our different forms of government. Often cities tend to provide services because residents want more services and if the economy is good, the funds from income taxes provide that funding and let's face it folks, who doesn't like getting their garbage service included, and it is not a small number when you collect refuse for 19,000 people, look at the community and economic development per capita amounts to see the financial impact; $18 vs. $35, again like my old mentor Mr. Fischer would say, if you want to belong to all the clubs and have all the toys, "It costs money."
This is not the complete story on the differences between Sylvania Township and the City of Sylvania and even though thru the years several attempts to combine the two communities into one have failed, the thoughts and numbers behind those attempts have been just a bridge to far but things do change and who knows if somewhere in the future Sylvania will not be a city and a township but one large community separated by a common purpose. My experience has taught me that when it makes sense and the costs of providing governmental services grows, the financial reasons may outweigh the political reasons; and then it could happen, only time will tell. It is a credit to the administrations and legislators of the city and township, that in recent months, there has been a mutually accepted agreement and understanding of how annexation will be approached in the future. This could someday lead to another study of pro's and con's of combining the two separate entities into one large community, again time will tell.
We trust this has been informative and enlightening to many whom have moved into the Sylvania area. If anyone has any questions or finds something I forgot please contact me. I am proud of being a native son of Sylvania Township including attending Sylvania Schools. My hope is that Sylvania's elected officials will continue to govern with due diligence and remain good stewards of our tax dollars.
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