Top court to mull East Liverpool's case
East Liverpool says it should have a right to vote on LGF allocations.
By MICHELE C. HLADIK
COLUMBUS -- The city of East Liverpool wants a say in how local government funds are distributed in Columbiana County and took the argument to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The city challenged the constitutionality of a bill the Legislature passed in 2002 that would allow them to be excluded from the decision on allocation of the county's share of state Undivided Local Government Fund and Undivided Local Government Revenue Assistance Fund money.
"House Bill 329 violates the uniformity clause in Ohio's Constitution," Columbus attorney John Kulewicz, who represented the city of East Liverpool, told the high court Wednesday.
He argued it unfairly allowed the county to exclude the city from the allocation decision while allowing other municipalities in the county to have a say.
He said there was no rational basis to deprive the city of a vote on the matter.
Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton questioned whether allowing a majority vote of the municipalities was still more fair than the previous method, which allowed East Liverpool to receive the largest share of the money as the county's largest political subdivision.
Political cause suggested
Justice Paul Pfeifer questioned whether other municipalities in the area believed the legislation made up for past years when the city had received such larger portions than everyone else.
He said there probably was a political reason behind the legislation.
"There's been a fight going on up there for a long time," Justice Pfeifer said. "East Liverpool was on the losing end of the fight in the Legislature."
Akron attorney Stephen Funk represented the Columbiana County commissioners before the high court.
Funk argued it wasn't an actual vote but an "approval process." He also argued it is clear in the statute that the commissioners may exclude the largest municipality if it is less than 15 percent of the county's population and has less than 20,000 residents.
He also said the law was created to make up for past abuses but added it was not created solely for Northeast Ohio or one particular region. He said it was fair because it applied to all areas of the state.
The Ohio Supreme Court agreed to consider the matter. This is the second time the high court heard arguments on the case between the city and the county on how the funds are distributed. The first case was decided in 2005. In that case, the high court sided with the Columbiana County Budget Commission.