Cooperation, collaboration, regionalism and partnerships are at the top of every community’s “to do” list these days. Far too often, however, communities fail in these efforts. In Cleveland Heights (CH) and University Heights (UH), some of these activities may actually happen as city leaders and citizens begin to discuss the very real potential for a CH/UH merger. So what does it take to merge and why would our two cities entertain such a notion?
Merging governmental jurisdictions is not uncommon. Over the past two decades numerous communities have successfully merged services and political jurisdictions. The City and County of Denver, CO, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, KY, the City and Borough of Juneau, AK, the Louisville - Jefferson County Metro Government, the City of Indianapolis and Marion County, IN, and the City and County of San Francisco, CA are just a few examples of proactive consolidation efforts.
So maybe CH and UH are not at the level of these larger consolidations, but these success stories beg the question as to why our two communities have not yet explored this option.
A merger in Ohio can be an arduous process with feasibility studies, community negotiations, voter referendums and state approval roadblocks to name just a few of the challenges that would need to be addressed. The most significant step, aside from having the people who actually live in these two communities approve the move, would be conducting a feasibility study to determine if a merger would benefit the two communities.
Clearly there is strength in numbers and a merger would significantly raise the population and profile of the new CH/UH community in Northeast Ohio. Two smaller towns combining to become one mid-sized community would alter the balance of power on the eastside of Cleveland. CH and its 50,000 residents combined with UH and its 14,000 citizens would establish a diverse first ring suburb with a variety of housing and neighborhood choices. A community 64,000 strong would also lead to a greater share of federal resources, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant program funding.
CH and UH are both unique economies that have strengths in different areas. CH has vibrant, walkable community centers that provide dining, nightlight and services. CH lacks strong office and retail centers and significant development opportunities. UH, with its larger retail corridors, access to the Eastern suburbs and prime real estate development opportunities brings a different economy that could benefit from CH’s strengths.
It is also important to point out that with a merger, both cities could save money by combining fire, police and city service departments. The elimination of duplicative city agencies and executive branches would also afford both communities savings. CH and UH already partner together on schools and some purchasing elements. A merger would potentially strengthen these existing relationships.
The two cities have a number of commonalities, including high real estate taxes and an aging infrastructure. Both communities rely on the other for shopping, dining, services and amenities. You could say that CH and UH are a perfect match.
So what is stopping the merger?
There are a lot of obstacles, aside from the obvious legal and approval issues, which have kept merger talks at bay. Both CH and UH leaders are hesitant to make the first move, fearing pushback and controversy.
There are other issues impeding a merger, including community sentiment. What would this new community be called? This is a common question when merger discussions take place and many fear that UH, the smaller of the two cities, many lose its identity. This is not an easy question to answer. Options include adopting the current Cleveland Heights, combining the names or creating a new name all together. CH is a community of neighborhoods and the UH community would fit nicely into this structure. UH’s unique location and relationship with John Carroll University would make it a unique, new “neighborhood” of Cleveland Heights.
CH and UH are probably years away from a true merger. But, given the current economic conditions of first ring suburbs and the desperate need for both communities to curb spending and increase tax revenue, a merger of services over time is a very likely outcome in the near term. Down the road, a full merger would seem to make sense.
Toby Rittner lives on Coleridge Road and is an active community volunteer.
Check out "Why UH?" forum discussion on the subject at the Observatory Forum: http://heightsobserver.org/deck