Butler County property values ‘astronomical,’ auditor says as big increases expected

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Butler County Auditor Nancy Nix is warning the state has indicated it might mandate a 24% property value hike this year for the mandated triennial reassessment, following big tax bills from the last reappraisal.

Property in all counties is reappraised every six years, and property values are updated every third year. The auditor’s office is in the process of the triennial update and Nix told the Journal-News the state might mandate an average 24% hike.

During the state-mandated 2020 reappraisal all 165,000 Butler County parcels were reassessed and the state ordered an average 20% increase. Former Auditor Roger Reynolds fought and lost his appeal of that increase.

“The state is telling us we’re going to be raising them again 24%,” Nix said. “We won’t be doing the appeal because we know where that ends up, we know who wins that battle. We calculate our own values but they override our values, I think our job here is to be fair and equitable among the county, among all the (taxing) districts.”

She said they haven’t been ordered to increase values by that much yet, but based on what the state has sent so far, it appears that is what will be mandated for the county as whole. Her office is reevaluating the properties based on local sales information so they can ensure the numbers are fair within the county.

Real Estate Director Mike Stein said for the triennial reassessment, “we basically review by neighborhoods in the county, we use the sales data as we do for the annual review and the state will come back and calculate ratios and averages, and the first half of 2022 the ratios came back at a 24% increase.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers, who is a realtor, was surprised to hear the state might mandate such a large increase.

“In my opinion values haven’t gone up near 24% or even 20,” he said. “I just don’t know where they come up with that figure, what the basis is of that figure except that they just need more money.”

The lost appeal meant that some property taxpayers got sticker shock when their bills arrived last month. County Treasurer Mike McNamara just certified the first half collection at $327.7 million, which is nearly $26.5 million higher than last year.

The total billed for the year for all property taxes is $615 million, up from $566 million last year. The first half bills totaled $296 million, but McNamara’s office collected considerably more.

“A lot of people opt to pay first and second half because your first half bill has both halves listed on it,” McNamara said. “So you have the option pay just first half or first and second half and be done with it.”

The distribution amounts to the various taxing districts won’t be ready until next week but the Lakota Schools collect the most in the property taxes by far. Last year the district culled $73 million in the first half collection. Fairfield City Schools came in second with $32.7 million and the smallest first half payment was $608 to tiny Jacksonburg.

A number of things combined to create the higher tax bills, the Butler County commissioners and Board of Developmental Disabilities erased temporary tax breaks, new tax levies in Fairfield and Madison Twp. and the fallout from Reynolds’ two-year war with the state.

With the uncertain post-COVID economy, the commissioners declined to extend the $18.5 million property tax holiday and the Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities also canceled their tax break. The combined impact was roughly $84 per $100,000 in home value.

Reynolds lost his appeal over the 2020 reevaluation last fall so tax bills for 2020 and 2021 had to be recalculated for residential and agricultural properties Reynolds challenged in Fairfield, Hamilton and Fairfield and West Chester townships, and the adjustments were on the first half tax bills.

That meant 48,999 taxpayers in Hamilton and Fairfield and West Chester townships saw tax bill adjustments totaling $6.1 million.

Disgruntled homeowners have always been able to appeal revised values — but not tax bills —to the county’s Board of Revisions — a panel consisting of representatives from the auditor, commissioners’ and treasurer’s offices.

The auditors office was concerned the prolonged appeals process with the state would foreclose rights of property owners to issue a challenge. Property owners by law have until March 31 the following year to contest their reassessment to the BoR.

Stein said since Reynolds’ appeal was the first ever, they sought advise from the prosecutor’s office.

“This is all uncharted territory, nobody’s ever done this before, so there was no straight ORC code that said yes or no that you could do it,” Stein said previously. “Unless we want to give the taxpayers the ability to appeal, only the increased amount for 2020 and 2021 can be appealed.”

Stein said people in the districts impacted by the 2020 value dispute can appeal both 2020 and 2021 values. Everyone else can only appeal last year by the end of the next week.

After the last reappraisal 761 people filed appeals in 2018 and 889 issued challenges in 2021 to the 2020 valuation review. Some of those however were businesses who were able to seek relief due to COVID-19.

Last year 90 people sought relief, and so far Nix’s office has received a total of 54 but six of them are from tax years 2020 and 2021.

Nix said they haven’t seen an onslaught of BoR appeals — likely because the auditor’s property values are considerably lower than the market due to rampant inflation, “that’s why people aren’t contesting, because we might be even 58% of what they would see on Zillow or what they can get for their house.”

She said “the values are just astronomical with this inflation, it’s a sign of the times” so most people “will not be successful” challenging the auditor’s values for last year. She said there was one time she remembers the BoR received about 4,000 value challenges because the market values had gone down but the auditor’s office values hadn’t yet been adjusted.

“Most people are undervalued where they are right now...,” Nix said. “This inflation is not just effecting gas and groceries it’s going to effect their property tax bills, because there’s always a lag effect.”

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