Butler County approves $5.8M tax break for property owners

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

To help Butler County property owners facing huge property tax bills next year, the commissioners approved a measure that will save roughly $40 per household.

The commissioners have been mulling the move for several weeks and Commissioner Don Dixon prompted the vote Monday. He said they tried, and apparently failed, to get a legislative fix to mitigate property value hikes that will soar by 40% in some areas, so the least they can do is forgo the unexpected windfall.

“We can clearly forgo the additional increase that we would have gotten on this windfall appraisal for calendar year ‘24,” Dixon said. “I think it’s only the fair thing to do, it’s not a huge amount of money but it does help.”

Butler County Auditor Nancy Nix brought awareness in March that average property values could skyrocket 24% and by May that number had exploded to 42%, the final median increase now stands at 37% for the county. The pandemic — among other issues — shoved home prices to bloated levels and the state was relying only on 2022 sales.

Butler County officials have led the charge in the statehouse to pass legislation to lessen the blow on taxpayers, but few are hopeful a remedy can be passed in time. Commissioner T.C. Rogers said “we’ve pretty much exhausted” any legislative options to reduce the blow to taxpayers by the end of the year.

“At this time I think based on the budget which was outlined the increase to us is better spent by the people that pay the taxes,” Rogers said.

County Administrator Judi Boyko gave the commissioners a brief overview of the 2024 budget they will be asked to approve next week, saying they have $135.6 million in unencumbered carryover to begin the year, $122.1 million — the windfall wasn’t included in the budget — in anticipated general fund revenues and expenditures totaling $121.9 million.

This is the second time the commissioners reduced property taxes for all property owners. The first was a $18.5 million rollback in 2022 that saved roughly $76 per $100,000 in home value.

The vote for the tax break ended up being unanimous but Commissioner Cindy Carpenter balked at the motion saying it took her by surprise, just like the previous rollback did, “I recall I said I’m not enjoying this $18 million surprise.”

“A fact sheet or something so we get a chance to look at what this means when we’re voting a $5.8 million resolution,” she said. “I just want something to look at besides here’s an idea and we hope that the numbers work out well.”

Dixon, Rogers and Boyko all reminded her the issue has been raised several times previously, “I’ve seen it so many times in our weekly reports quite frankly I’m quite tired of reading it,” Dixon said.

When the issue came up previously Carpenter said she wanted more data, especially regarding the rental properties in the county. She was reminded the data was provided to her but she said she hasn’t had time to read it.

Dixon said “time is up” and they needed to take action this week to ensure it will be incorporated in the upcoming tax bills.

“We are basically out of time, we can sit here and keep kicking the can down the road, and requesting more numbers, the numbers aren’t going to change from what they were six months ago...,” Dixon said. “This is nothing new, but time is up and we need to move forward. I think it’s the right thing to do, we’re not going to get the relief from the state tax commissioner, it’s not going to happen.”

Nix spent the late summer and fall canvassing the county asking all taxing jurisdictions to forgo the windfall — not their entire tax collections — but the bloated property value increases will produce. Aside from the commissioners she said Fairfield Twp. and Seven Mile were the only entities who agreed. Liberty Twp. was also considering it.

Had all the governmental entities accepted her challenge taxpayers would have saved around $11 million. The schools collect the lion’s share of property taxes and the windfall will bring the 10 districts roughly $29.8 million combined.

Lakota Schools Treasurer Adam Zink told the Journal-News it would be “tricky” for any of the schools to consider the Nix challenge because of the way state funding works. The more wealthy a district is, the less it receives in state aid.

“School funding is based around the values so whether somebody took less millage or not the state still views it based on the values,” Zink said. “So that’s where it becomes tricky just because the way that suppression was going to happen was through millage not through values, where if they did it through values the state wouldn’t think our values were that number.”

There is one bill dubbed a “universal” Homestead exemption state legislators are hoping to push through in time to make a difference on tax bills. Nix they won’t have any problem adjusting tax bills to include the commissioners’ rollback, the Homestead bill is a bit more involved.

“We’re in uncharted territory but yes I believe it can be done, we may be delayed a couple weeks sending bills out, but it’s doable,” Nix said.

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