LAGRANGE — Things could get contentious between the village and LaGrange Township as village leaders consider seceding from the township.
The reason the village is looking into separating from the township is a simple one, according to LaGrange Mayor Kim Strauss: Residents in the village are paying taxes to the township but aren’t getting any benefits.
“We are paying, approximately, a little under $70,000 in inside millage to the township,” Strauss said. “In defense of the township, when we would ask them, ‘Hey, you do this for your residents in the township, can you do this or can you do that (for residents in the village)?’ they would tell us, ‘No, the prosecutor told us we can’t do work within the village limits.’ At that point, we looked at each other and thought, ‘Then why are we paying this almost $70,000 a year when there’s almost no benefit to the residents?”
According to Lorain County Board of Elections Director Paul Adams, the situation isn’t all that uncommon in the county.
“There are a number of communities in Lorain County which overlap on top of each other, and LaGrange happens to be one of them,” Adams said. “They create what’s called a dual jurisdiction, where you have individuals who exist in both entities. When the village of LaGrange incorporated a long time ago, they never seceded from the township. That means that the people who live in the village not only get to vote for all the township officials — the township trustees and fiscal officer — but they also pay township taxes.”
Adams said that if the township puts a levy on the ballot for any reason, it would appear on the ballot in the township and on the ballot in the village. Village residents get to vote on village issues and elected officials as well as township issues and elected officials.
“In my opinion, it’s like taxation without representation,” Strauss said. “We do vote for the trustees because we are part of the township, but still that’s a pretty high price to pay when the residents aren’t getting any benefit.”
Strauss said the village didn’t secede from the township when it incorporated because of the township’s Fire Department, which is the same thing holding up the secession now.
“I believe the village, back in the day, never seceded because they wanted to stay with the township fire and rescue, and so do we as the village,” Strauss said. “We’re actually meeting with the (LaGrange Township) trustees here shortly to discuss forming a fire district, because we do want to stay with their fire and rescue; we think they do a great job within our community and the township.”
If the village were to secede from the township right now, the levy that funds the LaGrange Township Fire Department would disappear, according to Strauss.
“Basically, we have to have a district in place that would be the village of LaGrange and LaGrange Township that we would form, and we would start a new levy through the fire district. We want to have that in place as the old levy expired and we seceded from the township.”
Strauss said that despite what some may think, or even have said, the talks of secession are merely a matter of the property tax money being collected from village residents.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with us being mad at the township, or anything like that,” he said. “It’s very simply a matter of dollars and cents. Why would we want our residents to pay this money when they get no benefit back from it?”
The village would not get the nearly $70,000 in property tax that the township collects from village residents if the secession happened, Strauss said.
Township officials aren’t thrilled about potentially losing the tax money.
“It would certainly make an impact on the budget, there’s no doubt about that,” LaGrange Township Trustee Douglas Gardner said. “Our budget has been impacted by all types of things over the last couple years, as far as reductions of local government funds and things like that. There would definitely be an impact, but we have bigger issues that we have to consider.”
He cited the fire department as one of those issues.
If the village were to secede from the township, it wouldn’t be the first time it has happened in Lorain County. Strauss said the village of Grafton detached itself from Grafton Township for the same reason years ago.
There was also another more recent occurrence, according to Adams.
“The last time I knew of this happening, was in the 1990s,” Adams said. “Oberlin used to be part of what was then called Russia Township. If you lived in Oberlin, you had the same situation with LaGrange. In that case, Russia Township wanted to secede and break away from the city. There were a lot of reasons concerning the college, their local elections and stuff. When they broke away, they called it New Russia because they renamed themselves when they seceded from the city.”
In addition to LaGrange, Adams said Wellington, Rochester, Kipton, South Amherst and Vermilion all exist within townships. In the case of South Amherst, the village is part of New Russia Township and part of Amherst Township. Vermilion is part of Brownhelm Township in Lorain County and Vermilion Township in Erie County.
Strauss hopes that the possible secession would not cause contention between the village and township and that both entities would continue working with each other.
“We don’t want anything to change, honestly,” he said. “It shouldn’t. We can still share equipment as we have in the past. We can still own the park together. We can still own our industrial park that we built together. None of that has to change.’’
The township trustees, though, aren’t so sure yet.
“We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to work out,” Gardner said. “We need to have a conversation with the village and Village Council so that we all know we’re heading in the same direction. We really need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with the folks on Council to see what they’re hoping to achieve out of all this.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be the best from a total-community perspective, but they (the village) have their thoughts, too. I’m willing to listen to what they have to say on it.”
Township Trustee Rita Tompkins Canfield echoed that sentiment.
“Well, there will definitely be some changes, I’m sure,” she said. “The separation will force the changes. The township is responsible for fire and EMS, and we don’t have anything worked out on that. It will take some time to work out those arrangements.”
The Village Council has the authority to decide whether the village secedes from the township without putting it on the ballot for the residents to decide, according to Strauss. Assistant Lorain County Prosecutor Gerald Innes agreed.
Strauss also said the Village Council and the township trustees can decide to create a fire district between the two without it going on the ballot.
A possible secession won’t happen right away, though. Strauss said other things have to happen first.
“As soon as we have a fire district and levy and everything in place to move forward with the district (the secession could happen),” he said. “It will not happen before that. What’s important here is the timing. These things need to be in place before we secede, because we do not want to affect our residents’ or the township residents’ fire and EMS protection.”
Strauss said the village is working on planning a public meeting in which village residents can talk with the Village Council about the possible secession, ask questions and give input on the matter.
Contact Scott Mahoney at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SMahoneyCT.