Butler County auditor takes fight over mandated property reassessments to Columbus

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds took his property reassessment fight with the state tax commissioner to Columbus this week for a board of tax appeals hearing. GREG LYNCH / STAFF
Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds took his property reassessment fight with the state tax commissioner to Columbus this week for a board of tax appeals hearing. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds got his chance to defend his 2020 mandated property value reassessment before the state board of tax appeals Wednesday, but the impact on taxpayers won’t be known immediately.

A year ago, Reynolds pushed back on Ohio Tax Commissioner Jeffrey McClain over his 2020 property value reassessment. Due to detrimental effects of the coronavirus, Reynolds first asked to delay the mandated reassessment, which was denied. When Reynolds submitted his reappraisal numbers to the tax commissioner’s office, he proposed an average 13% property value increase. The state ordered a 20% hike.

He sent the tax commissioner revised numbers with an average 14.5% increase after he reexamined some areas where the tax commissioners thought his numbers were “soft.”

“I am not going to go with excessively high values,” Reynolds said at the time. “I am not assessing excessively high values on property owners during a pandemic when there is a huge question mark on what the real estate market is going to do.”

The tax commissioner’s office said Ohio law drove its decisions to call for “real property to be values at its true value in money for the purposes of taxation.”

Reynolds and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Dan Ferguson traveled to Columbus to make their case to the Board of Tax Appeals that the tax commissioner’s office should have weighed values from all three years since the last reevaluation, and not emphasized 2019.

“It’s a statutory interpretation. Standard appraisal practices has you look at the most recent samples to determine a value, we don’t dispute that,” Ferguson told the Journal-News. “But that’s not what the legislature dictated the tax commissioner to do, they said use three years, didn’t say use the most recent year or weight it to the most recent year.”

ExploreButler County agrees to $14 million property value drop for Liberty Center

Reynolds is appealing the values for Fairfield, Hamilton and Fairfield and West Chester townships, the tax commissioner didn’t quibble with his values for the remainder of the county.

When asked about the hearing and how many challenges by county auditors have been accepted, Gary Gudmundson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Taxation, said he could not comment because “the matter is effectively still being litigated.”

Ferguson said he was “pleased” with how the hearing went and the hearing officer for the board has asked for more briefs on the issue.

“It’s still going to take some time before this plays out,” Ferguson said. “But I think we presented a good solid argument and good solid case today.”

Reynolds told the county commissioners during his budget hearing this week regardless of the outcome, taxpayers likely won’t see a value change this year. Since the tax appeal was in place Reynolds was able to keep the values he set intact, so if they are successful nothing will change.

Commissioner Don Dixon asked if interim tax bills will be required if they lose the appeal.

“We hope not,” Reynolds said. “We see potentially that we could adjust on the bill that goes out in 2022, but there’s a lot between now and then, because as far as we know it’s unprecedented.”

The county collected $564 million in property taxes this year which is $42.3 million more than last year. This was due in part to the reassessment but there were also some levies passed last year and other moves made to take advantage of the value hike. A value increase does not automatically mean higher taxes for all.

The highest increase was in Lemon Twp. at 32%, and the lowest was 10.1% in Morgan Twp. Reynolds received 773 applications to challenge property values to the Board of Revision, including Liberty Center owners asking to drop the value $58 million.

The BOR agreed to a $14 million Liberty Center value reduction last month, after it contested the 2020 reevaluation, bringing the value of the retail portion of the development down to $124 million. Liberty Center owners have also asked for an additional $60 million reduction, based on a new state law that allows reduced values due to the negative impact of the pandemic.

Reynolds’ office received 20 other value challenges totaling $43.3 million based on the pandemic’s impact. The highest reduction request was nearly $8 million from the Holiday Inn on Muhlhauser Road in West Chester Twp., the property is currently valued at $13.8 million according to the application.

The application states that due to COVID stay-at-home orders and other pandemic regulations the hotel occupancy rate dropped from 73% in 2019 to 50% by year’s end last year.

“Senate Bill 57 allows for entities like Liberty Center to file complaints (about property values) due to loss of rental income due to COVID,” Mike Gildea, an appraiser with the Butler County Auditor’s Office told the Journal-News previously.

The window to file any more applications for a value change has closed.

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