The way money is allocated in most cash-strapped cities, counties and townships across America, it often seems like a matter of splitting hairs. But the Butcher Road Pothole of 2011 in Columbiana County, Ohio really came down to splitting a road. All in the name of fiscal responsibility.
A brouhaha erupted in the summer, when a pothole plaguing motorists seemed to be getting bigger while it was officially ignored. Citizens complained to the city of Salem, which owned one side of the road, and Perry Township, which borders the city from the opposite side of the road. Apparently, where the precise dividing line fell – and in whose jurisdiction the pothole was located – was not absolutely clear.
As the city of Salem and the township of Perry debated each other publicly in the media, local residents and users of the road were none too pleased the problem wasn’t getting fixed.
WFMJ-TV interviewed Joanne Bogdan, in whose neighborhood the pothole sat. “Get yourself together here and do something about it,” she said. “We pay our taxes. They want our taxes paid on time and we should have some kind of service here.”
WYTV-33 talked to another neighbor, Thomas Grimm, whose thoughts on the bureaucratic wrangling were, well, grim. “It started last winter,” he told reporters. “It’s been bad ever since. When you pull out, you have to watch because the other cars are coming toward you. It’s a dangerous situation. Someone is going to get hurt.”
Salem News reporter Mary Ann Greier dug into the heart of the problem. As it turns out, the city annexed this particular section of the town a few years back. The annexation changed the property line to the middle of the road in question. But a sign indicating the city limit overreaches a bit, to the far side of the road – signs don’t land in the middles of roads, for obvious reasons – which may have contributed to the confusion.
City and township stewards of road repair resources each defended their positions in the interest of economy. “I’m not going to spend city taxpayer dollars to fix a township road,” said Salem’s City Service/Safety Director Steve Andres.
A county prosecutor was called in. By mid-September, that prosecutor determined Perry Township was responsible for the area in question.
And in this county on the eastern edge of Ohio the pothole was repaired immediately. We assume there was much rejoicing.