FORT SHAWNEE — To be or not to be. That is the question facing a pair of communities around the region come Tuesday. Residents in Fort Shawnee and Uniopolis will be asked whether their communities should cease to exist.
While the question is the same, the circumstances surrounding the two communities couldn’t be more different. Village Council sought the disincorporation in Uniopolis. In Fort Shawnee, it is dissatisfied residents, embarrassed by years of fiscal mismanagement, seeking the end.
It doesn’t end there for voters in Fort Shawnee, however. Village officials are asking residents to not only vote against the disincorporation but also to support a new operating levy that will help right the village’s financial ship.
It’s a tall order, according to Craig Bradford, a village resident who has been leading the cause for disincorporation.
“There’s a thousand reasons really. As we’ve progressed through this situation every day the Fort just offers up more and more reasons why the residents should dissolve Fort Shawnee,” Bradford said. “When this started it was about simply the people in the village didn’t feel they had a voice in what was going on in the village. There were a lot of decisions being made where residents did not approve of it and they were basically told, ‘Well, it’s our decision and we’re making it.’”
In addition to the concerns over the village’s fiscal health, Bradford said residents are angry over the decision to contract with a single provider for trash service as well as the decision to slash police protection and shut off street lights.
Bradford said he for one would have been more forgiving if the administration and Village Council had taken responsibility for Fort Shawnee’s position.
“I would have if the mayor and council would have stepped up and said, ‘Look, we screwed up in how we handled the tax dollars and that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in, we recognize where the flaws were and we’re fixing those flaws,’” Bradford said. “If you research the issues of why we’re in fiscal emergency, why we continue to be in fiscal emergency, not one time has council or the mayor stepped up and took responsibility for us being in this position.”
Mayor Pete Mariotti acknowledged Fort Shawnee has had issues in the past, but reiterated those issues are in the past. Mariotti also said he hasn’t been given enough time as mayor to resolve the outstanding issues.
“I walked into a disaster. I had a $130,000 deficit walking in,” Mariotti said. “The state auditor projected us at an $850,000 deficit by 2015. I’ve been given 10 months and I’ve knocked the deficit down to $30,000. I’ve put in systems and processes to manage the government like a business. I approve every expenditure, I co-sign every check. You can’t take eight years of spending more money than is coming in and expect myself and council to fix that in 10 months.”
Both sides have taken issue with the other at one point or another since the petitions were approved by the Allen County Board of Elections to put the issue on the ballot. Bradford said supporters of keeping the village have attempted to scare voters by sending a letter saying the cost to disincorporate would be passed on to residents.
“They sent out mailers to residents telling residents if they voted to disincorporate there would be a cost and the mayor would decide what that cost was and decide what tax rate each resident would pay for dissolving the Fort,” Bradford said. “Think about that. They’re sending out letters saying this man they’re about to vote out of a job is going to set a tax rate they’re going to pay for doing it.”
Mariotti said state law, specifically section 703.21 of the Ohio Revised Code, allows the village to continue collecting for expenses.
“We estimate village obligations of over $1.3 million. Who’s going to pay that?” Mariotti asked. “Based on this Ohio Revised Code it says that taxes can be levied and collected from the residents to pay the existing obligations when you surrender corporate power.”
Mariotti said voters should vote down the disincorporation and vote for the 3.25 mill additional levy because the $219,000 it will raise a year will be more than sufficient to steady the village’s financial situation.
“Disincorporation is a permanent thing. If the residents vote to do it, there’s no going back,” Mariotti said. “They have a hardworking administration and are getting extreme value. We’ve done as good as humanly possible in 10 months. Give us another year and you won’t know the village from where it was a year ago.”
Bradford said it’s too little too late.
“I don’t think they care enough to make sure the money is being spent properly. That was one of the committee’s first arguments when we first started out — all of these financial misgivings were under a previous administration,” Bradford said. “If you look back to November 2011 they had a 4 mill levy on the ballot. The voters said no we’re not paying more money after what we’ve seen going on here. Immediately after voters turned down they got stuck with this garbage contract and it brought in more than the levy would have.”