Today's Briefing Handout from Ed Jerse, Director of Regional Collaboration

Text of the handout from Ed Jerse, Director of Regional Collaboration for Cuyahoga County:
                                                                  BRIEFING ON MERGER STUDY
                                                                              June 22, 2011


·       Four Cuyahoga County communities – the City of Pepper Pike, Orange Village, the Village of Moreland Hills, and the Village of Woodmere – have agreed to study the possibility of a merger of their communities.  This is not an agreement to merge, but an agreement to study the merits of a possible merger.
·       Mergers of communities are governed by Sections 709.43 through 709.48 of the Ohio Revised Code.  The formal process, which is outlined below, is lengthy and involved and must be undertaken over the course of two general elections.  As a practical matter, if the communities choose to move forward, the first formal step would not be undertaken until August 2012.
·       That timeline, however, gives the communities an important opportunity to informally study, with the support of Cuyahoga County and the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission, the merits and mechanics of a possible merger.  Over the coming year, interviews can be conducted, data needs can be identified, information can be gathered, and cost-benefit analyses can be conducted.  These efforts will allow the communities to assess the wisdom of moving forward with a formal merger effort and, if they choose to move forward, will provide critical information for the next step in the process.  Even if the communities choose not to pursue that course, the process will help identify opportunities for shared services and other efficiencies.
·       Staff from the County Planning Commission will assist the communities in gathering the information needed and undertaking the cost-benefits analyses necessary to evaluate the merits of a merger.
·       County Executive Ed FitzGerald commends Mayors Bruce Akers of Pepper Pike, Kathy Mulcahy of Orange Village, Susan Renda of Moreland Hills, and Charles Smith of Woodmere for stepping forward to explore this opportunity and to serve as a model for collaboration.  The Executive and the Mayors recognize that mergers are very difficult to achieve.  Still, this process will: assess the merits of a merger of these communities; identify opportunities for shared services between these communities; serve as a model for other communities considering merger; and build capacity in the County Planning Commission to support such efforts.  With 59 communities in Cuyahoga County, and with the fiscal challenges facing each, the possibility of merger is an idea worthy of exploration.

The Merger Process
·       Again, the process to merge communities is governed by Section 709.43 through 709.48 of the Ohio Revised Code.  To briefly summarize the process, using an effort undertaken in 2012 as an example, the steps would be as follows.  Step 1: In August 2012, communities seeking to merge would file petitions to place on the November general election ballot an initiative to establish a commission to conduct a merger study and prepare a “Report of Merger Conditions” and to nominate five commission members from each community. Step 2 (assuming approval of the initiative): Over the next year, the Commission meets, studies the merits and mechanics of a merger, and votes on a Report of Merger Conditions, which spells out the name and governing form of the proposed merged community. Step 3 (assuming approval of the Report by the Commission): In August 2013, the Commission certifies to the Board of Elections its agreement and the proposed merger conditions; Step 4: At the November 2013 general election, a ballot issue is placed before the voters of the affected communities asking whether they approve the Report of Merger Conditions and agree to merge; Step 5 (assuming approval by the voters): On January 1, 2014, the new merged community comes into existence.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.     Through this announcement, are the Mayors agreeing to merge their communities?
No. This is an agreement to study the merits of a merger. Any decision to merge would be made by the voters of the communities and only after lengthy and detailed analysis of the merits of a merger.

2.     What will the study the mayors have requested entail?
Staff from the County Planning Commission will interview the mayors, identify information and data to be gathered, and begin a cost-benefit analysis of the merits of combined operations. 

3.     What is the next step after the study is completed?
The study is an informal process that will allow the mayors to assess the merits of a merger and decide if they wish to put the first formal question, i.e. whether a merger study commission should be formed, before the voters.

4.     Is there any value in the study if the communities choose not to go forward with a formal merger effort?
Yes.  Even if the communities choose not to move forward on a merger effort, the study may identify opportunities for shared services and efficiencies that the communities can undertake through agreement. The study effort will also serve as a model for other communities that may be considering merger.

5.     If the informal study suggests that a merger makes sense, what would be the formal process to undertake a merger and what would be the timeline?
The formal merger process is a multi-step effort (outlined above). Briefly, the voters would need to approve a formal merger study commission; the commission would need to assess the merits of a merger (it could make use of the informal study) and produce a “Conditions of Merger Report” describing how the merged community would function; and the voters of each community would need to approve the Report and agree to merge.  The two votes – to approve a study commission and to approve an actual merger – must take place at general elections, so those votes would be at least a year apart. (A single one-year extension of the second vote is an option.)  If an initiative to create a study commission was filed in August 2012 and approved by voters in November 2012, the commission would undertake its work in the ensuing year and the formal report and question of ultimate merger could be placed before the voters in November 2013. If majorities in each community agreed to the merger, the new community would come into existence in January 2014.

6.     If my community chooses not to merge, can it be forced into a merger by the other communities?
No.  There are many “exit ramps” in this process.  If a community concludes that the informal study does not warrant further exploration of merger, it can decline to advance the first formal initiative (to establish a study commission) or vote down that initiative if it is placed on the ballot.  If the process gets to the next stage, a majority of the community’s five representatives on the merger commission can vote against the “Conditions of Merger Report” and that will end the process. If the ultimate question of merger, i.e. the second ballot issue, is placed before the voters, the community can vote against it. The defeat of the initiative by any one community defeats the entire measure, even if the other communities agree to merge. In short, each community controls its destiny and has numerous opportunities to bow out of the process.   

Contact:   Ed Jerse
                  Director of Regional Collaboration

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