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News: Hamilton County Joins Statewide Effort to Renew 'First Suburbs'

By Katie Taft · July 22nd, 1999 · News

They're not mad. Members of the Southwest Ohio First Suburbs Consortium say they're just getting even. The First Suburbs Consortium -- a statewide project -- is making headway locally in organizing a group of suburbs to fight for equal attention. Equal state subsidies for infrastructure, transportation plans and other projects, that is.

Consortium members say they have had enough of policies that favor growth in outlying areas over revitalization in already existing communities.

"The key here is that we are not saying to townships they're not allowed to grow and expand, we just want to even the playing field," said Mel Martin, a Madeira councilman who initiated interest in starting the project in Cincinnati.

Martin said the group is drafting a mission statement and still is in the process of gaining interest from various neighborhoods that fit the criteria of a "first suburb."

Mature, landlocked communities surrounding the urban core of Cincinnati with a declining industrial and business base qualify as a first suburb, he said.

Once the group reaches out to all qualifying communities for interest, the goal will be to obtain political clout at the state level.

The state legislature dictates that new suburbs can receive grants for maintaining and building new roads, park lands and schools while older communities can only get loans.

"We want equal treatment," he said. "We want to gain a strong voice to present our argument to the state government and say, 'Hey, we've been here for years and years, and we deserve the same attention as a new suburb.' "

First Suburbs of Ohio is overseen by the umbrella group of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

Its goal is to bring together all of the state's first communities to put pressure on lawmakers.

Hamilton is the last major county in Ohio to become involved in the First Suburbs project, Martin said.

The idea to bring together communities that are losing government assistance and residents to outer rim, newer communities began in Cleveland in 1997. Since then, Columbus, Toledo and Dayton have formed local consortiums.

"There has been a momentum building, and it has finally reached us," Martin said.

Tom Moeller, Madeira city manager, said interest from communities steadily had increased because maintaining infrastructure had become more of a problem for them.

"Neighborhoods that are 30 years old are left to their own sources," he said. "There is a great difficulty maintaining things like infrastructure and housing stock because financial resources have declined."

Moeller said Madeira's housing is not a problem like in other suburbs.

Instead, Madeira's concerns are roads such as Miami Avenue, which carries a lot of outside traffic and is becoming expensive to maintain.

"Each community has something different that they are trying to get out of First Suburbs," Moeller said.

So far, the group has reached out to communities such as Lockland, Loveland, Glendale, St. Bernard, Norwood, Reading, Woodlawn, Springdale, Greenhills, North College Hill and Wyoming.

Moeller said that even communities that are not faltering yet look at the First Suburbs group as security for the future.

Wyoming is a good example of this type of suburb because its tax base is strong and its infrastructure, although old, is "healthy."

"One of the things that we are interested in is preserving the tax base," said Bob Harrison, Wyoming city manager. "A couple of bills came forward this past year that would impact income tax and state tax. Those kind of things could end up hurting us."

Although Wyoming's tax base is doing well now, Harrison said there wasn't enough in terms of expanding business and development. And maintaining mature sewer and water lines also are a concern.

"This makes us look to how state aids are distributed," Harrison said. "We want to make sure we get our fair share."

As far as how successful First Suburbs will be in Hamilton County, Harrison said everyone is keeping their fingers crossed.

"There seems to be an interest there among suburbs and that could lead to the possibility of success," Harrison said. "Yes, I think this could be very successful."

The Southwest Ohio First Suburbs Consortium will have its next meeting sometime in the coming month. The mission statement is expected to be introduced at that meeting. ©



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