Butler County jurisdictions mull property tax holiday

The Warren County commissioners recently announced they will give taxpayers a property tax “holiday” next year because they are flush with cash, and some Butler County jurisdictions are now looking into a similar tax break.

Last month, leaders in neighboring Warren County approved a $47 million property tax holiday for next year that they say will lessen the impact of an average 17% property value hike from a mandated reassessment.

The commissioners say through their fiscal conservatism they have amassed a budget carryover of around $50 million, some of which they said belongs in taxpayer pockets not the county coffers.

This week, West Chester Twp. Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones suggested the trustees consider the same thing.

“I wanted to raise discussion about the merits of that, or not,” Jones said during their meeting Tuesday. “I just wanted to put that out there that we too should consider what we can do to help people in need.”

Since Township Administrator Larry Burks was not at the meeting, the trustees didn’t vet the question but told the Journal-News they are willing to discuss it. According to a report from the Butler County Auditor’s Office this year the township expected to collect $16.3 million in general fund revenues, spend $7.7 million and carryover nearly $18 million.

“I would have to wait and see what the numbers look like and if there is viability there,” Trustee Ann Becker said. “There’s a lot of conversations about people on fixed incomes having problems paying their property taxes. If our budget would allow it I wouldn’t mind exploring it.”

“It can certainly be discussed,” Trustee Mark Welch told the Journal-News, but noted with the average property value hike of 14.5% that took effect this year it will likely be a wash, especially since the township’s share of property taxes are only about 20%. “I don’t think it would make much difference to anybody’s particular property taxes.”

The Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities gave taxpayers a break this year and will rollback $3.6 million in 2022. With cash reserves at 92% of its annual budget, the DD board agreed to make the tax cut and give taxpayers on average $17.50 back on $100,000 of valuation.

The Journal-News asked other jurisdictions if they would also consider giving property owners a tax break and Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon said “I think it’s a great idea and I don’t think it’s out of the question to be considered by everybody.”

The county is estimating it will collect nearly $116 million in general fund revenues next year and the various office holders, departments and independent boards that are supported by that fund submitted expense budgets totaling $108.4 million. The cash carryover is projected at just shy of $80 million.

Liberty Twp. Trustee Board President Tom Farrell said after the Journal-News posed the question staff started studying the feasibility of a tax break. The auditor’s report showed projected general fund expenses at $3.6 million and carryover of $9 million.

“We always want to consider ways to decrease the taxes of our residents, there’s no doubt about that,” Farrell said. “This holiday gives back to some of them who have seen an (property value) increase that many of us think was higher than it should have been, so it makes perfect sense.”

He said the only caveat is their budget for roads is insufficient to cover the amount of work that needs to be done, so they need to consider that problem in the discussion.

Butler County jurisdictions received $26.8 million in CARES coronavirus relief funds last year and have been allocated a total of $155.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars, but that money is restricted.

According to the auditor’s report not every jurisdiction in the county planned on a robust cash balance at the end of the year. After expected expenditures of $48 million Hamilton’s general fund cash balance was projected at $4.8 million; Middletown’s tax budget was $33 million with $5 million in carryover and Monroe $14 million with $3.7 million left over.

Middletown Mayor Nicole Condrey said since they haven’t studied the issue she isn’t certain the city can afford to give taxpayers a break, but they have lost revenue so “that fact alone tells me that perhaps the numbers aren’t there to make it happen.”

Acting Fairfield City Manager Don Bennet said his council hasn’t discussed the issue and “I cannot speculate as to their opinions on the matter.”

Cities rely heavily on income tax revenue, not property taxes and state lawmakers approved a measure whereby employees who worked from home during the pandemic can get refunds on income taxes. Oxford City Manager Doug Elliott said with that uncertainty he will not recommend a property tax holiday.

“The city will not know the impact of this provision until individual tax returns are filed,” Elliott said. “It may represent a very significant income tax revenue loss for the city of Oxford.”

Several jurisdictions did not respond to requests for comment.

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