Hamilton annexation case: Ohio Supreme Court orders settlement

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Hamilton annexation case: Ohio Supreme Court orders settlement

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St. Clair Twp. legal advisor Gary Sheets

Other Butler County townships say they may consider joining a lawsuit seeking 12 years of taxes after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the city of Hamilton and St. Clair Twp. to settle.

The cash-strapped township sued Hamilton, saying it wants taxes repaid that were lost due to annexations over the years.

The court on Thursday ordered the case to mediation and also said St. Clair’s legal advisor Gary Sheets needs to come up with a dollar amount to start settlement discussions.

Sheets said he and Hamilton’s attorneys had already broached the subject of settling.

“The township’s perspective is that we’re entitled to something, or they wouldn’t have sent us there (to mediation),” Sheets said.

He told the Journal-News he has no idea how much money might be at stake here but thousands of parcels have been annexed from the township.

“We will put forth the parcels we have and the best information we have as to their value and that will be our demand…,” he said. “We’re still working on it but when the commissioners adopted the boundary adjustment there were 281 pages of tax parcel numbers… It’s probably easily 5,000 or 6,000.”

Over the years as Hamilton has annexed land from St. Clair, Fairfield, Hanover and Ross townships, the city did not get county commissioner approval for boundary adjustments, meaning residents in those townships should have been able to vote for both city council and township trustees, and the townships should have retained their property taxes.

However, the auditor’s office adjusted the boundaries and thus the taxes, and the Board of Elections disallowed multiple jurisdiction voting because both believed the annexations were finalized.

When the city was told about the probe, it received permission from commissioners last October to create a “paper township,” which adjusted the city’s boundaries to include the annexed properties.

Sheets says that action triggered a law that says townships must be compensated for 12 years for the money lost due to the annexation.

Ross Twp. Administrator Bob Bass said his trustees will discuss joining the fight Thursday night.

“They would definitely consider it, they are looking at it…,” Bass said. “They are going to discuss it amongst themselves tonight, what they can possibly do, but they are very interested in looking at the situation.”

Fairfield Twp. Administrator Julie Vonderhaar said the township hasn’t committed one way or another to the lawsuit.

“Fairfield Twp. has been contacted and at this time we are still evaluating all options,” Vonderhaar said.

And in Hanover Twp., Administrator Bruce Henry said they have had an agreement in place with the city since 1996 whereby they are now getting $8,000 annually — the amount fluctuates based on a number of factors — from the city so they are a little differently situated.

“Without further legal advice, my guess is that the contract that has been in force kind of supersedes all that (the lawsuit)…,” Henry said. “I think we’re in a little bit different situation.”

Hamilton’s attorney Catherine A. Cunningham could not be reached for comment but said in her response the township isn’t owed anything.

“Relators are seeking, through mandamus, to create a new source of real property tax revenue St. Clair Township has never received before — a portion of unvoted real property taxes (inside millage) that the city of Hamilton receives and has always received from the Butler County auditor for all real property located within its municipal limits,” she wrote. “This case does not involve any recent annexation or ‘lost’ tax revenue.”

The city’s website shows Hamilton collected $2.4 million in real estate taxes last year.

Cunningham also noted in her reply to the lawsuit that Sheets’ claim the township should be compensated stems from a law enacted in 2002, and any annexations prior to that time would not apply. Some of the annexations might date back 200 years, she noted.

In asking the court to deny the action, Cunningham said there haven’t been any recent annexations and none since 2002 that would be subject to the compensation provision.

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