2010-10-02 / Editorials & Letters

Church of Fiscal Irresponsibility

Union Township Trustees may have purchased a $310,000 church, but they certainly aren’t worshiping fiscal responsibility. There are several things wrong – legally, financially and civically – with this secret purchase. But first full disclosure is warranted. This writer – for some of the same issues raised in this purchase – has stood for election against all three current trustees and lost.

Let’s start with the legal issues. According to Brother John Slater, the decision to bid on the church at the foreclosure auction was made in an August 30 executive session. Ohio’s Open Meetings Act allows a public body to go into executive session to consider the purchase of property. The key word is “consider.” ORC 121.22 (H) states, “A resolution, rule, or formal action of any kind is invalid unless adopted in an open meeting of the public body.” No decisions can be made in an executive session. In addition, ORC 121.22 (F) (7) requires “the motion and vote to hold that executive session shall state which one or more of the approved matters listed in those divisions are to be considered at the executive session.” That didn’t happen.

Let’s recap the legal issues. Trustees improperly went into executive session for a permitted reason and then violated the Open Meetings Act by making a decision during that closed session. That invalidates their action, though it requires a suit in the county court of common pleas to enforce it. It’s probably to late to overturn it since the court handling the foreclosure action confirmed the purchase on Sept. 23.

If trustees had publicly discussed their interest in a building to consolidate operations and then made their decision legally, they would have likely avoided the financial and civic issues. There was certainly plenty of time to do so. The first notice of the sheriff’s sale was published July 29.

Hopefully any public discussion would eventually get trustees to focus on the township’s needs and responsibilities. This writer has long supported the concept of a combined centrally located satellite fire station and township road maintenance facility. Trustees got the central location OK, but bought a 6,800 square foot church instead. Neither the church nor the covered picnic shelter can be used to house fire or road maintenance equipment. The ceilings aren’t high enough nor are the concrete floors strong enough to support heavy equipment. The cost to turn the church into a fire station/road maintenance facility is prohibitive.

So what did trustees really get with this purchase. They got a 7.1 acre single family building lot that’s worth maybe $35,000 - $40,000 in this market. Since it already has a well and septic system, let’s kick the value up to $50,000. That means they paid $260,000 for a church with a few offices/ meeting rooms and a large sanctuary to provide an office for the zoning inspector, a couple of rooms for the one-person police department and storage for township records. That’s an awfully high price, particularly considering the township was paying $200 a month rent last year for those uses. It will cost more than $200 a month just to heat and cool the church. It’s a very white elephant.

That $260,000 could probably get the township half way to a facility that actually meets their needs – a satellite fire station, maintenance garage, a meeting room and a few offices. Thanks to this bone-head decision, the township is now $260,000 in the hole toward that goal.

As recently as May, Brother Rick Black rejected Hebron’s suggestion that EMS billing revenues be reserved for capital improvements including a future satellite station. Black said the revenue should go to “offsetting costs, not building buildings.”

So here we have three brothers, er trustees, battling Hebron for 10 months over maybe $5,000 in EMS billing revenue, continuing a far too long adversarial relationship with the township’s primary fire/EMS provider. They are also unwilling to spend $5-10,000 to redo the center and fog lines on Beaver Run Road – the township’s most heavily traveled road. But somehow they can secretly buy a church for $310,000.

And they even screwed that up. There were only two bidders at the auction – Brother Black and the mortgage holder. The minimum bid was $213,334 which is far too high for the township’s needs. The mortgage holder topped the township’s $216,000 bid by jumping to $307,000 which Black then topped with $310,000. Trustees shouldn’t have been there in the first place, but the $91,000 jump from $216,000 to $307,000 should have brought Black back to his senses. Let the mortgage holder buy it at $307,000. It would soon be back on the market where the very small market for churches would ultimately push the price much lower.

Brother Jesse Ours has longed bragged about how trustees have maintained the township’s $1 million+ carryover for years. Now with Ohio facing an $8 BILLION dollar deficit in its next two-year budget with everyone, including local governments, fearing major cuts, trustees secretly spend 25-30 percent of their carryover for a CHURCH building that will only give them a couple of offices, a meeting room and some storage space for records. It is an incredible waste of our taxes!

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