Butler County auditor appealing 20% property value increase order

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds is taking his reassessment fight to the next level now that the state tax commissioner has once again rejected his 14% property value increase in favor of a 20% bump.

Reynolds has been fighting the state for the better part of this year because he believes a 20% value hike during the uncertain pandemic is unreasonable.

He first asked to delay the mandated reassessment of 165,000 commercial and residential properties, and that was denied. When Reynolds submitted his reappraisal numbers, he proposed an aggregate 13% property value increase. The state ordered a 20% increase.

He sent the tax commissioner revised numbers with an aggregate 14.5% increase after he reexamined some areas where the tax commissioners thought his numbers were “soft,” and that number was denied in October.

Reynolds got final denial from State Tax Commissioner Jeffrey McClain last week, so he has appealed to the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals, an independent entity. Pending that appeal, the increases will remain an average of 14%, and the first half property tax bills will reflect that amount.

“The commissioner finds that the values on the final abstract is not in compliance with the requirement that real property be valued at its true value in real money,” the letter from McClain reads.

He ordered Reynolds to increase values an average 20% in Fairfield, Hamilton and West Chester Twp. and 23% in Fairfield Twp. On average, the commissioner accepted Reynolds’ 14% increase in other areas, but the auditor said the impact is countywide.

“In the large areas like West Chester, West Chester goes up to 20% and Fairfield goes up to 23% that’s going to bring the entire county up,” Reynolds told the Journal-News. “Because there is a higher density in West Chester, Liberty, Fairfield than there is in Morgan, Wayne and Oxford. They carry more weight because there’s more value and more houses in those particular areas.”

Generally, increased property values do not translate to higher tax bills unless a jurisdiction alters an existing levy or asks voters to approve a new levy. Taxpayers in West Chester Twp. will see a tax increase because voters approved two safety service levies in November.

Homeowners in the Hamilton and Ross school districts will also see increases — about $27 and $61 per year, respectively, on a $100,000 home if values ultimately go up 20%. Both school boards approved moving inside millage from the general fund to permanent improvement funds to take advantage of the increase.

Reynolds said overall sales in 2019 were higher than the two previous years so he considered sales from all three years. The state mandated a single year review.

“Based on just those 2019 sales, state bureaucrats are ordering a 20 percent aggregate increase in residential/agricultural properties for the 2020 tax year in Butler County,” said Reynolds. “That’s ridiculous!”

Reynolds said he isn’t too optimistic he’ll be successful in his appeal.

“If we lose the appeal then I will look for a legislative fix to this process, where bureaucrats ultimately at the state level control what our values are and not the local officials,” Reynolds said.

The three county commissioners sent letters to all the state legislators representing the county in October supporting Reynolds’ battle. Commissioner Don Dixon said they will continue to support Reynolds.

“We’re 100% behind him and we’ll do anything we can to help,” Dixon said. “But I’m also realistic in knowing they don’t listen well in Columbus. We’ll give it our best shot.”

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