“The property is far better aligned with the township for provided services than the village, who provides no services.”
— The Ohio Renaissance Festival
“Harveysburg is just a little bitty village and that’s a big economic blow.”
— Richard Verga, Harveysburg mayor
A government and its largest employer are at odds over actions the government has taken and threatens to take against its largest employer and major business. The story spills over into the press. Newspaper reporters anxiously get quotes from business leaders. Legal actions are filed in local courts. Sound like Florida and Walt Disney? Those things might apply to that situation, as well, but I’m talking about the Village of Harveysburg and the Ohio Renaissance Festival.
If you’ve ever been to the Renaissance Festival, then mention of it probably doesn’t conjure up images of carefully drafted litigation and lawyers huddling over papers in a courtroom. You’re much more likely to be thinking of vendors selling swords, people in Medieval costumes eating roasted chicken legs, and performers doing everything from juggling to jousting. But a major legal battle has developed between the festival and the tiny village in which it sits.
The village sits tucked in a corner of Warren County in southwest Ohio. At the last decennial census, its population was 554, just about the same as it was in 1880. It has a post office, but no real business or industry to speak of. Outside of taxes on its citizens, its only source of business income is, essentially, the festival. And in recent elections, the citizens of the village have voted down proposed levies for operations and law enforcement.
With a total operating budget of just over $300,000, the village decided to look for new revenue sources, and its eyes naturally turned to the festival. A tax was proposed on ticket sales — one that festival organizers say would increase their ticket price by about $2 per ticket. They say that they don’t really get any services from the village, and they can’t understand why their patrons should pay more.
As such, the festival has taken a very, very unusual step. Often, we hear about developers asking to have their land added to a village or city through a process known as “annexation.” This is done to get access to city services, commonly water and sewer. But the Renaissance Festival wants to do the opposite. They want to leave the village and go back to being township land through a process known as “detachment.”
There are two methods, under Ohio law, for detachment to happen. One method requires a majority of landholders in an area (or a single landowner if there is only one) to petition the county commissioners to remove the land from the village or city and either attach it to an adjacent township, or create a new one.
The other method, which the festival seeks to use, applies only to farmland, and permits the landowner to bring an action in the general division of the county’s Court of Common Pleas. The festival has done so in Warren County. It’s a curious decision in that the Common Pleas Court must now determine that the land is farmland, that it is being taxed beyond the value of services provided, and that “said lands may be detached without materially affecting the best interests or good government of such municipal corporation” in order to grant the petition. As to the last part, Harveysburg notes that the festival accounts for 14% of its total income and that village services will, in fact, be materially affected if detachment occurs.
Fittingly, there is history involved. The festival annexed into the village in 1995 and a services agreement between them ended in December of 2022. The situation appears to at least be appropriately chivalrous — in recent news articles both sides have spoken positively toward the other, noting that it’s just a difficult situation for everyone involved.
This year’s Renaissance Festival opens Sept. 2 and runs through Oct. 29 with themed weekends — vikings, pirates, and time travelers among them. But, alas, there is no “Renaissance Lawyers” weekend to save on those pesky detachment legal fees!
David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, where he has served as magistrate, court administrator, and now judge, since 2003. He has written a weekly column on law and history for The Delaware Gazette, as sister paper of The Morrow County Sentinel since 2005.