A Comparative Look at the Village Dissolution Movement in Ohio and New York: Assessing State-Level Policy Impacts

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January 31, 2021

Lisa Parshall

Executive Summary

Since 2010, the residents in 18 villages in New York and 11 villages in Ohio have voted to dissolve their municipal incorporations. Incorporated villages in both states face many of the same antecedent pressures of depopulation, deindustrialization, municipal fiscal stress, and rising property tax burdens on local residents. While the village dissolution movement in Ohio has received media attention, it has not yet been the subject of significant academic study. This report thus lays the foundation for rigorous study of disincorporation in Ohio, reviewing the legal framework and building a dataset of village dissolution efforts in the Buckeye State.

We begin with a review of the local government structure in both states, the patterns of village incorporations, the criteria under which new villages can be formed, and the legal mechanisms by which villages may be dissolved (or consolidated). We then examine how New York and Ohio differ in terms of state-level efforts to encourage municipal reorganization. By contrasting village dissolution in Ohio with New York State, we can better understand the role of state-level policy choices in facilitating municipal restructuring. This comparative analysis suggests that, while the factors driving the increase in village dissolutions are similar, the varying success rates (in terms of approved dissolutions and the frequency of dissolution attempts) are attributable to the differences in the legal frameworks and the state-level policies adopted.

Among the key observations:

  • New York has outpaced Ohio in dissolution activity and in the number of successful dissolutions having dissolved 6.7 percent of its incorporated villages since 1980, relative to Ohio’s 2.5 percent.
  • New York has relied more heavily on state-level incentives in the form of grants and enhanced state aid to encourage local reorganization efforts.
  • Ohio law authorizes forced dissolution of small and dysfunctional villages or villages suffering from prolonged fiscal stress, but these provisions are rarely used and appear to be an ineffective threat to motivate voluntary dissolution efforts.
  • Dissolution in Ohio is more closely linked with fiscal stress as a motive for citizen-led efforts, yet forced dissolution resulting from fiscal emergency is viewed as a last resort option.
  • Ohio provides more statutory guidance but lacks clarity in the dissolution and implementation process to the detriment of citizen-initiated dissolution efforts.
  • New York provides greater state-level assistance and more policy learning opportunities to guide citizen-initiated dissolution efforts.

As state legislatures consider additional measures to encourage local government reorganization and streamlining of services, such comparative evaluation may guide them toward the adoption of state-level policies that will better facilitate the consolidation of local governments.

Read the full report here.