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Residents of the village of Coolville rejected an attempt to dissolve the municipality’s status as a village in tonight’s election, after a years-long acrimonious campaign. In a decisive victory, the 209 voters who cast their ballots voted 60-40 to maintain the village government.
Some residents, upset with high water and sewer rates, as well as perceived incompetence or corruption on the part of village officials, launched the dissolution campaign in recent years. If the dissolution had passed, Troy Township would have been required to take over most village services, except for sewer and water. For those, a regional water district or the county would have had to take over.
The high utility rates are partially a result of millions of dollars in debt that the village took on to construct its water system, the town’s first public water infrastructure. In 2013, the village took out $6 million in loans from the Ohio Water Development Authority, which forgave about $2.7 million. Since then, the village has kept current on its monthly payments, paying about $1 million so far. The rest is set to be repaid through 2036, at a 0% interest rate. Plans for that system had been in place since at least 2003.
Most of the rhetoric, however, has revolved around bad blood between some village residents and officials. Dissolution advocates, like former village councilmembers Jeremy Miller and Amy Rupert, charged that current and former village officials, including current Mayor Rose Tyman, former mayor pro tempore Roxanne Chiki (Rupe), councilmember Curtis Rood and fiscal officer Jim Ford took corrupt actions — such as not enforcing water shutoffs because both Tyman and Rood’s houses would have been included in the houses losing water access — and are generally incompetent. Ford, Tyman and Rood have not responded to requests for comment.
Chiki, who has been the leading advocate against dissolution, pushed back against these claims, especially those that the village hasn’t been responsive to resident needs. She provided examples from her tenure as mayor pro tempore, such as installing a handicap ramp at the village hall, investigating complaints that the village employee charged with reading water meters was neglecting their duties (leading to that employee quitting), and instituting online bill payment for residents.
Village finances have been grim for over a decade. Audits available from the Ohio State Auditor’s office show that auditors have noted significant financial irregularities and failure to comply with a plethora of state budgeting laws.
Ohio village dissolutions — there have been at least 12 others since 2010 — are generally prompted by financial distress, according to a January 2022 report from the Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York. In general, small village finances are so susceptible to distress that if even relatively small amounts of money are lost, they may be faced with dissolution as the most attractive option, said Lisa Parshall, a political science professor at Daemen University in New York and the author of the Rockefeller Institute report.
Rupert, who advocated for dissolution, said in a Facebook message that “we were able to give the people a voice. And I’m proud of that. The voting system is in place for a reason and although this did not go the way we hoped, there’s still options.” She said she would not be bringing this issue up again because she is building a new house outside of Coolville and moving out of the area.
Chiki, the former mayor pro tempore who led anti-dissolution efforts, said in a Facebook message, “I am so excited to see Coolville will remain a village. I believe with time and effort from both community and council there will be many improvements in the future. One good thing that has come from the debate is a conversation from which solutions can be found. My heart is happy.”
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She said “never say never” when asked whether she’d be involved in village government in the future.
Additional reporting by Isabel Nissley and Malaya Tindongan
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