Monday, November 5, 2007

Shotgun regionalism

Revenue-sharing agreements among local counties are usually developed to benefit both jurisdictions and are usually true agreements, one would hope.

Not in Ohio. Weighted representation on Northeast Ohio's metropolitan planning organization (the Ohio version of SEWRPC), has led to Cleveland being able to throw it's weight around, perhaps a bit too much.

A highway interchange improvement located in a suburban county would not have been approved by Cleveland's Cuyahoga County, which has more votes than any other county due to having the largest population, unless the town housing the interchange agreed to a unique revenue-sharing arrangement. The other suburban counties went along, because their votes did not have enough weight to stop the plan. The result is that the City of Avon must send half of the income tax money collected from a business with an annual payroll of $750, 000 or more that relocates to the area around the interchange back to the community the business moved from for five years. Those terms will remain in effect for 30 years after the interchange’s construction.

The heavy-handed tactics have angered all the suburban counties, including Medina, which is now planning to leave the regional planning organization. “Avon had a gun to its head,” said a Medina county commissioner. "We don't want to be in that boat."

Imagine if Ozaukee or Racine County pulled out of SEWRPC because Milwaukee County forced Oconomowoc to share revenue from the Pabst Farms development. Milwaukee, of course, doesn't have that kind of power within SEWRPC, as votes aren't proportional to population. In fact, many complain that SEWRPC over-represents the suburbs. But it isn't unheard of for a central county to be in a different planning area than its suburbs. Dane County is in just that situation, for example.

Observes an Ohio county commissioner, "This is a dead end to regionalism." The next time we complain about the lack of regional cooperation in southeastern Wisconsin, let's note that we at least have all our counties sitting at the same table when it comes to planning, which is more than they can say in Northeast Ohio or Southwest Wisconsin.

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