From the 4/9 Cincinnati Enquirer:
State Auditor places Hamilton Township in Fiscal Emergency
By Rachel Richardson, firstname.lastname@example.org
HAMILTON TWP. After more than a decade of snarled finances and multimillion dollar deficits, the state will now take over Hamilton Township’s checkbook after the state auditor declared it to be in fiscal emergency.
Auditor Dave Yost made the announcement at a Wednesday afternoon press conference, three months after he directed his office to complete the township’s audits for 2010-13 and analyze them to determine the township’s possible financial distress.
“We try to work with particularly smaller governments to try and help them get back on an even keel,” he said. “That obviously wasn’t the case here. It got to a point where I felt we needed to act.”
A government can be placed in a fiscal emergency if one of six conditions are met. Yost said the Warren County community of about 24,000 met two of those six conditions, including current deficits of $2.5 million in its road and bridge and new administration building funds and a more than $1 million treasury deficit.
The township is one of 23 Ohio governments in a fiscal emergency. Yost said the length a municipality remains in fiscal emergency could range from two to 15 years, depending on the severity of its finances.
The auditor said he was confident Hamilton Township could lift itself from fiscal emergency status in a couple years.
“Fundamentally, the township is sound. The tax base here is sufficient to support government operations. They are well poised to be able to recover quickly,” said Yost.
Township officials now have 120 days to develop a plan to eliminate the deficits. That plan must be approved by a state commission, which will monitor and review township spending.
When the corrected actions have been completed, state officials will conduct a five-year analysis of the township’s finances. If the outlook is satisfactory, the township will be released from the fiscal emergency.
Officials have placed much of the blame for its financial woes on the township’s former fiscal officer, Jackie Terwilleger, who held the elected position for 34 years until her retirement last month.
Terwilleger, 73, announced her departure abruptly amid allegations she’d mismanaged township finances, falsified checks written on the township’s account and authorized payments without trustees’ approval, among other claims.
Township trustees unanimously voted in February to refer Terwilleger, 73, to the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office for criminal investigation on allegations she allegedly backdated a series of checks totaling $134,000 and issued them without trustees’ approval, as required by law.
Officials have also asked the township’s law director, Warren Ritchie, to investigate whether other accusations of unauthorized spending by Terwilleger violate the Ohio Revised Code.
Those investigations remain ongoing, officials have said.
Yost stopped short of placing the blame solely on Terwilleger, but said the township’s finances contained numerous cases of inaccurate bookkeeping.
“Clearly, the fiscal officer was in over her head,” he said.
Township trustees last week unanimously voted to appoint Ray Warrick — a regular and vocal critic of how officials have handled the financial crisis — as fiscal officer to fill the remainder of Terwilleger’s term through March 31, 2016.
Warrick said township officials have already begun working on a five-year plan and that officials hope to do so without raising taxes or reducing police and fire services.
Trustee President Kurt Weber said residents could expect to see some cuts made to the township’s parks budget.
“This isn’t the best day for the township, but this is probably the most willing group of people to be placed on fiscal emergency in the state of Ohio,” said Warrick. “We’re very confident that we can work our way out of it.”