Ohio Amish in Quandary on Road Repairs
MOUNT HOPE, Ohio _ Amish resident Merlin Keim is well aware his horse’s studded shoes are gouging paved roads. He’d like to make a donation to help pay for the damage.
Keim, 53, and other Amish residents in northeast Ohio think it’s only fair they chip in to fix roads torn up by their horse-drawn carriages.
Since buggy owners are not required to buy licenses _ which automatically defers $20 for road maintenance _ Amish residents think they should be allowed to donate their fair share.
``I think it’s better left up to the individual,″ Keim said.
But Ohio law prevents local governments from accepting donations.
``In Ohio, county governments and township governments can’t do anything unless the state law specifically tells them to,″ said Republican state Sen. Ron Amstutz, who is preparing legislation to allow the contributions. ``If somebody writes them a check, they probably can’t do anything with it.″
The idea for the bill came from the Amish, Amstutz said.
``I was contacted by several elders in the Amish community to discuss this issue, and essentially they asked for help in finding a way to collect and pay for road maintenance,″ he said.
``In 22 years, that’s the first time I can remember being called into a meeting when somebody was volunteering to pay.″
He said his proposed legislation ``is sort of a compromise″ to mandatory buggy licensing.
Many Amish communities in the Midwest have objected to getting licenses because they do not want to display the metal tags _ or simply do not want to register with the government.
The road repair issue is unique in Amish communities.
``Most of the roads are built to meet more modern traffic; they put hard surface on them,″ he said. But the hard surface makes the road slippery for horses pulling Amish buggies, so ``they end up putting horseshoes on that bite a little bit to keep them from slipping.″
Those shoes erode the road surface. ``It’s like putting chains on your car. If you run that over the road a lot of times, you start doing serious damage,″ Amstutz said.
Illinois passed legislation last year allowing townships to charge a fee for repairing roads damaged by horse-drawn carriages. Townships can charge up to $50 a year for each horse and buggy.
The damage can add up. For example, Wayne County, a northeast Ohio county with a large Amish population, spends $30,000 to $50,000 of its annual $6 million budget to repair the roads, said county engineer Roger Terrill. He said a lot of the road damage is cause by Amish buggies.
Amstutz said the Amish communities in Holmes, Wayne, Geauga and Ashtabula counties have offered to donate repair money through collections at their churches.
Holmes County is a rural area about 65 miles south of Cleveland and has what’s believed to be the world’s largest Amish population. The Amish do not believe in modern conveniences such as electricity and automobiles.
Amstutz, chairman of the powerful Way & Means and Economic Development Committee in the Senate, plans a meeting Monday to discuss possible legislation.