The term paper township refers to a civil township under Ohio law that nominally exists for certain purposes but does not act as a functioning unit of civil government. Such townships usually exist on paper as a legal fiction due to municipal annexation.
All territory within Ohio is at least nominally part of a township and may additionally lie within a municipality (city or village). Whenever a single municipality and a single township become coextensive with one another, the township government is automatically abolished and consolidated with the municipal government under Ohio Rev. Code §703.22. This condition can be met in multiple ways:
- A municipality may annex territory until it becomes coextensive with the township. For example, the City of Cincinnati was originally located in Cincinnati Township in Hamilton County; the city annexed the township's remaining unincorporated territory in 1834, abolishing the township.
- A township may be incorporated wholesale as a municipality. For example, in 1955, the residents of Van Buren Township in Montgomery County voted to incorporate as the Village of Kettering, abolishing the township.
- A municipality may withdraw from its surrounding township, creating a township coextensive with the municipality that only exists on paper for the purpose of satisfying the requirement that the entire county lies within a township.
Under other provisions of state law, a township can exist nominally in rump form without a government if the remaining unincorporated portion of a township does not meet the requirements for incorporation or annexation.
In a legal maneuver known as withdrawal, a municipality may request that the board of county commissioners modify the overlapping township's boundaries to exclude the municipality. Since the entire county must be covered by townships, the board simultaneously erects a new township coextensive with the municipality. The township effectively never exists because its government is immediately abolished. This legal fiction is common among the state's largest cities and popular among cities and villages in southwestern Ohio, where township government is seen as redundant to municipal government and a cause of higher taxation.
A city or village that overlaps with multiple townships within a county only needs to create a single paper township to withdraw from each township. However, no township may span county lines. Therefore, if a municipality exists in multiple counties, a separate paper township must be erected in each county in order for the municipality to completely withdraw. For example, Hamilton, Clermont, and Warren counties each have a nominal Loveland Township that corresponds to part of the City of Loveland. When the municipality annexes additional land, township boundaries must be explicitly adjusted to reflect the change; otherwise, the annexation remains in the original township as well as the municipality. Under 1953 case law, a paper township may not be considered an adjoining township for the purpose of dissolving a township.
A paper township does not have to share the municipality's name. For example:
- Louisville's Constitution Township is named after the city's nickname.
- Fairfield's two paper townships were named Heritage by the county commissioners of Butler and Hamilton counties because Butler County already had a Fairfield Township – the one from which Fairfield withdrew.
- Canal Fulton's Milan Township is named after one of two villages that Canal Fulton annexed in the 1850s.
A township can consist of unincorporated territory but lack a government because it has no resident population. On January 23, 1981, Wayne Township in Montgomery County was re-incorporated as the city of Huber Heights. However, a small portion of Wayne Township east of the Mad River was part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Under Ohio Rev. Code §709.01, territory on military installations can not be incorporated without the approval of the Secretary of Defense. Thus, that portion of Wayne Township still nominally exists, but has no local government. It is currently the only unpopulated township in Ohio. Decades earlier in 1943, Millcreek Township in Hamilton County became defunct, leaving no local government, after annexations by Cincinnati and withdrawals by other villages reduced the township to only a cemetery without even a resident property owner eligible to vote for annexation.
As of the 2010 Census, 15 townships in Ohio had no government because a city or village had become coextensive with it, and one because it had no population. A total of 258 municipal corporations (179 cities and 79 villages) have fully or partially withdrawn from functioning townships to create paper townships. Of those partially withdrawn, 24 are cities and three are villages.
Municipalities can dramatically reduce a real township's territory and tax base by withdrawing from the township and subsequently annexing additional territory. Columbia Township in Hamilton County and Lemon Township in Butler County were once large and populous but gradually shrank to small, discontiguous neighborhoods as surrounding cities and villages withdrew and continued to annex township land. To remain viable, a township may merge with another township or municipality either through a referendum or with the consent of the relevant boards of trustees or councils.
Since 2002, a municipality must reimburse a township for lost tax revenue when land is transferred to a paper township after annexation. Previously, the reimbursement had to take place upon annexation, even if the land remained within the original township.
Paper townships are a relatively obscure phenomenon that can create major surprises in election administration. In 1890, a defunct, largely forgotten Storrs Township in Hamilton County upended the Ohio Democratic Party's gerrymandering scheme, potentially affecting the balance of power in the United States House of Representatives, when a state redistricting act was inadvertently worded in a way that failed to place the township's residents in any congressional district. A joint congressional resolution was introduced to temporarily revert the districts to their former boundaries.
- Houck, Jeanne (December 18, 2010). "Annexation heads off possible double taxation". The Cincinnati Enquirer (Northeast ed.). p. NE12.
Here's how Loveland City Manager Tom Carroll defines a 'paper' township: 'A paper township is common for villages and cities, and it is a legal mechanism to remove property annexed into a city from the township in which it was originally situated...'
- Deters, Joseph T. (December 13, 1994). "Letter to Hamilton County Board of Commissioners" (PDF). Retrieved November 3, 2012.[permanent dead link]
- Kemme, Steve (June 22, 2009). "Fairfax may be its own township". The Cincinnati Enquirer. p. B3.
- Prince, Charles (February 12, 2011). "Trustee questions fairness of dual taxation". The Buckeye Lake Beacon. Archived from the original on April 25, 2012. Retrieved September 16, 2013.
- Richter, Ed (September 24, 2016). "Monroe officials consider forming 'paper township'". Journal-News. Liberty Township, Butler County, Ohio. Retrieved July 18, 2021.
- Liebler, Kym; Albert, Tanya (May 12, 1998). "If township ends, what happens?". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved September 17, 2013.
But based on a quick review, Mason likely would not be able to absorb Deerfield Township if it were dissolved, said Cheryl Subler, policy analyst for the County Commissioner Association of Ohio. According to 1953 case law, a paper township 'may not be considered an adjoining township,' she said.
- Harbaugh, Richard. "Mayor's Fall Newlestter Article". City of Canal Fulton. Archived from the original on September 6, 2013. Retrieved September 16, 2013.
- "History". City of Canal Fulton. Archived from the original on September 6, 2013. Retrieved September 16, 2013.
- Guide to State and Local Census Geography (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
- "Board To Tackle Riddle Of One-Voter Township". The Cincinnati Enquirer. July 31, 1942. p. 16 – via Newspapers.com.
- Heffner, Jessica (August 14, 2011). "Decimated by annexations, township's future is bleak". Hamilton JournalNews. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
- Callahan, Denise G. (June 22, 2014). "Townships struggle to survive state cuts". Journal-News. Liberty Township, Butler County, Ohio. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
- "History of the Township". Columbia Township, Hamilton County, Ohio. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
- The State ex rel. St. Clair Township Bd. of Trustees v. Hamilton, 156 Ohio St.3d 272, 18 (Ohio March 5, 2019).
- Trevas, Dan (March 5, 2019). "City Might Owe Township Tax Payments, But Court Will Not Order It". Court News Ohio. Columbus, Ohio: Supreme Court of Ohio Office of Public Information. Retrieved July 18, 2021.
- "Omitted a Whole Township: a Mistake That May Invalidate the Ohio Gerrymander". Chicago Tribune. September 19, 1890. p. 9 – via Newspapers.com.
- Peck, Hiram David (1875). The law of municipal corporations in the state of Ohio embracing the statutes in force July, 1875, with notes of the decisions of the Supreme and other courts of the state relating thereto. Cincinnati: R. Clarke & Co. – via Wikimedia Commons.