Harlem Township, Westerville merger discussions discontinued


WESTERVILLE — The potential merger of Harlem Township and the city of Westerville is off, less than two months after it was announced on Feb. 28.

“The Strategic Planning Committee was disbanded by the Township Trustees on April 17th, 2024, following recommendation to disband made by the SPC on April 16th, 2024,” read a statement on the Harlem Township website.

The City of Westerville’s website posted on April 18, “We are aware of the Harlem Township Trustees’ action to discontinue discussions related to the intent to merge.

“In fact, Westerville City Council was informed on Tuesday, March 19 a change may be imminent,” the statement continued. “Township officials had requested an expanded timeline to pursue a Merger Agreement, to which the city was amenable. An adapted timeline would move an election for both communities into 2025. The timeline to hit the November ballot was aggressive from the beginning for a very new or rarely used strategic partnership like a merger.”

Before being placed on the ballot, much would have needed to happen: First, both Westerville City Council and the Harlem Township Board of Trustees would have needed to approve moving forward. Next, both parties would have had to negotiate terms of the merger agreement, and there were many questions in terms of services and expectations. Then, the council and trustees would need to approve the agreement, which would then be placed on the ballot. Both Harlem and Westerville residents would have had to vote in favor of the merger for it to take place.

“Ohio law provides multiple ways for local governments to merge, even if their borders do not touch, as long as their councils and voters approve,” said the Harlem website. “This recommendation was not adopted by the Township Trustees.”

The Westerville statement said, “While this was one scenario to continue to move forward in good faith, we are aware Trustees, staff and volunteers have been inundated with outcries of criticism from opposing parties in recent weeks.”

Judging from public comment on social media and in-person meetings, Westerville residents were open to the idea of a merger, and at least some Harlem residents were openly hostile to the idea.

“These discussions began because Township officials and representatives approached Westerville administrators as a potential strategic partner in July 2023,” the city said. “Harlem recognized the need for planning help and support, and Westerville believes that need still exists.”

Since Intel announced it was building fabrication plants in next-door Licking County, Harlem officials began planning to stave off annexation efforts from various municipalities. Among those efforts were to have the all-volunteer SPC serve as an advisory body to the trustees and the hiring of a consulting firm to supplement the township’s Zoning Resolution and Comprehensive Master Plan.

“The Strategic Planning Committee is here to aid in planning for the future of our community,” Harlem’s website said.

“Westerville is committed to working with Harlem and any regional partners to pursue thoughtful, well-planned growth that facilitate continued strong public services, responsive public safety and crime prevention, safe schools and neighborhoods, job creation and overall economic stability,” the city said on its website.

The Gazette will have more stories on this decision and what happens next for both communities in the weeks ahead.

Assistant Editor Gary Budzak photographs and reports on stories in eastern Delaware County and surrounding areas.

No posts to display