School tax challenge divides lawmakers by party | News, Sports, Jobs
A bill to prevent school districts from challenging property values on county review boards, which must be approved by the General Assembly shortly, is dividing Mahoning Valley state lawmakers along political parties.
Local Republicans support the proposal while Democrats oppose it.
The Ohio School Boards Association is against the bill.
The state Senate approved the bill last month while the House, which has approved similar legislation in the past, is expected to vote in favor shortly, mostly according to the parties. Both legislative bodies have Republican supermajorities.
“It’s so restrictive, and it ties the hands of school districts,” said state Rep. Michael J. O’Brien, D-Warren.
School districts can currently challenge property values with county review boards.
The bill would prohibit anyone except the property owner from filing a claim against a property assessment from next year.
School districts filing appeals are seeking to raise property taxes and that practice would cease if this bill becomes law.
The bill would require districts to get permission from school boards before attorneys could file appeals and would not allow districts to file with the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals afterwards if they lost. It also prevents school districts from resolving complaints outside of county review boards.
The Ohio School Boards Association opposes it because school districts across the state depend on property tax money, and its members believe they should have a say in making sure that Property values are fair, said Will Schwartz, deputy director of OSBA’s legislative services.
“The bill eliminates the ability of school districts, counties, and cities to challenge when the local board of reviews has assessed property values to be different from the actual value,” Schwartz said. “Under what is proposed, only the true owner of the properties will be able to challenge the assessed value of the property.”
Schwartz pointed out that property values can change due to recent sales that increase or decrease tax values.
“What might have been valued at $10 million the year before may now be $5 million due to a recent sale,” Schwartz said. “Counties and school districts should have a say in making sure the value of land is reflected in tax billing. This will make a difference in the amount the district will receive from tax revenue.
Those who support the law changes have argued that some school districts have teams of attorneys that scour tax records and sue residential and commercial landlords.
“I think if asked, most school districts will say they don’t go after residential landlords when challenging a change in property value,” Schwartz said. ” It’s very rare. Most filings are against commercial property owners who have significant changes in the valuation of their property.
The OSBA testified against the bill in both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate.
“The Senate bill goes much further than the House,” Schwartz said. “The original House bill, from our perspective, retained our ability to challenge the property assessment change.”
The OSBA represents school boards in 711 school districts in Ohio.
State Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, said the proposal, which he supports, would prevent people from “having their property taxes unduly increased. This would save people from having to pay an excessive amount of money and also avoid having to hire a lawyer to dispute this.
Cutrona added, “The county auditor sets the tax rates and for these districts to challenge them is not fair. I don’t think it’s fair for a district to say that a property tax rate should be higher and require an individual to defend themselves.
Lawmakers representing the Mahoning Valley said it was more of an issue outside the region, particularly in Columbus and Cincinnati.
State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, said the bill is “wrong because it takes away a tool to advocate for revenue for our children. It can result in lost revenue for our districts. “School districts deserve revenue to support education. It’s unnecessary. It sends the wrong message that we don’t support education in the state.”
Without this option, school districts would miss out on the revenue they rightly deserve and would be forced to seek out that lost money by asking for tax levies, O’Brien said.
“If they can’t get it from the people who should be paying it, they’ll have to go to the taxpayers for the money,” he said.
But state Sen. Sandra O’Brien, R-Lenox, whose district includes all of Trumbull County, said some school districts are hiring private attorneys to get “millions of dollars from property owners.”
O’Brien, a former Ashtabula County auditor of 12 years, said school districts would still be able to respond to homeowners looking to write down the value of their properties.
“If we continue to allow school districts to sue landlords, it will hurt economic development,” she said. “It doesn’t have much impact on our region. It appears to be the larger school districts with higher ratings. But it is still important to master this.
Warren City Schools Superintendent Steve Chiaro said school districts and local governments are working with the county board of review to make sure all homeowners pay their fair share.
“Property values are most often in question when a property sale has taken place,” Chiaro said. “Therefore, sales-based challenges are reasonably obvious and defensible.”
Chiaro noted that it’s common for attorneys for both parties to come to a conclusion together and file a stipulation agreement with the county to adjust the packages to an agreed upon amount.
“If an agreement cannot be reached, a hearing is conducted with both parties providing evidence and testimony as to why the value should be increased or decreased,” Chiaro said.
The district is currently working with the Board of Review on two commercial property appraisal complaints, where sale prices were both $461,000 and $549,000 lower than the county auditor’s appraisal.
“The bill (House Bill 126) removes the proper checks and balances that work to ensure a fair tax system,” Chiaro said. “The outcome will be unfortunate not only for the tax entities themselves, but also for residential and commercial owners whose values are set at specific levels.”
Youngstown Treasurer AJ Ginnetti said the district leaves the assessment of property tax values ”…to the experts,” he said.
“We get what’s sent to us, and the school board either votes to accept the assessment change or against it,” Ginnetti said. “That’s how it’s been done over the years.”
Terry Armstrong, Newton Falls treasurer, said in his experience, school districts challenge residents’ property assessments. Armstrong previously worked as Treasurer of Boardman and earlier as Superintendent of Lordstown Schools.
“I personally think school districts shouldn’t go after residential property owners if the assessment of their properties changes,” he said.
Armstrong described Boardman as having a large number of commercial properties that require tax assessment reductions.
“Boardman Schools is concerned about the impact that lowering these assessments will have on residential property taxpayers, as it is likely that a greater tax burden would be imposed on residents,” Armstrong said.
LaBrae Superintendent Anthony J. Calderone said the district doesn’t encounter the issue on a regular basis.
“I would only add that I think it diminishes local control, a strong conservative principle in our state,” Calderone said. “I wonder if we are creating a solution to a problem that does not exist. The system appears to be working efficiently as it is designed now.