County auditors propose sweeping changes to property value hike legislation

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Two bills moving through the statehouse would temporarily “fix” huge property value hikes but, if passed, could wreak havoc with the state tax billing system, so county auditors now are floating some other relief ideas.

Ever since the state tax commissioner issued property value increases for counties undergoing the triennial update last spring, Butler County officials have been fighting the double-digit jump that now stands at 37%.

The tax commissioner put heavy emphasis on property sales from 2022, when the market was out-of-whack with post-COVID-19 influences, opponents have said. Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser proposed mandating a three-year average, which would slice the increase to around 24%.

A group of county auditors met Wednesday and proposed three alternatives to attacking the property value side of the tax equation, because they said it is essentially too late to afford relief for taxpayers next year. The ideas:

  • A credit on the property tax bill for owner occupied residential and agricultural properties for the difference between 2023 and 2024 tax bills, to be reimbursed by the state to local governments.
  • A refundable income tax credit for the difference between what was paid in 2023 and 2024.
  • A cap on the amount of increased revenue that can come from 20-mill floor school levies to no more than the annual inflation rate.

The county auditors have maintained the state has a property tax problem, not a value issue. Warren County Auditor Matt Nolan, who has been the spokesman throughout this issue for the County Auditors Association of Ohio, agreed legislatively these could be an uphill battle.

“There’s a couple different ideas, but the state could give tax relief tomorrow, they’ve got a lot of money but I don’t know what the appetite is for that,” Nolan told the Journal-News. “But our tax relief program that would lower the floor, that could be done relatively simply whereas the value reduction is very, very difficult from the administrative side.”

Butler County Auditor Nancy Nix told the Journal-News they haven’t had time to vet the legal issues that may arise from the 20-mill floor adjustment, but if it can be done “it could lower the increase for an individual property owner’s bill from 25% to perhaps 5%.”

Tax bills don’t automatically jump commensurate with value increases. The reason Butler County taxpayers are facing huge tax bills is eight of the 10 school districts — schools collect about two-thirds of property taxes — are at the 20-mill floor, which means they will reap the benefit of the huge value hikes.

Nolan said the auditors have discussed the ideas for a while but now that it appears legislation spearheaded by Butler County legislators has some traction, it was the time to propose them for serious consideration.

West Chester Republican Sen. George Lang tried and failed to get the provision in the state budget in June and Rep. Thomas Hall, R-Madison Twp. introduced HB 187 with the same provision. Hall’s bill was voted favorably out of the House Ways and Means Committee with a few amendments and is awaiting a floor vote.

Lang introduced a nearly identical measure in the Senate, and it had a second reading in the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday.

The majority of county auditors opposed the bills. Nix said if the legislative “fix” were passed earlier it was feasible, but at this late date it will cause all kinds of problems and would delay tax bills, meaning the taxing bodies who depend on those revenues could be jeopardized.

Nix said many auditors outsource their appraisals and those would have to be redone. She has an in-house crew so accomplishing a law change would not be too difficult, but she also worries how the state tax commissioner’s office can get its work done. The state has to certify final numbers for 41 counties undergoing triennial and sexennial reappraisals.

“I have always felt like we’re OK, but then speaking with other auditors they’re not OK,” she said. “They don’t have in-house appraisers. They don’t have districts that can go months without their money, so that’s the issue.”

She said auditors are working with the state legislators to see if any of these ideas can be incorporated in HB 187.

Hall told the Journal-News they are not going to alter the bill as it continues its course through the House, but amendments could be considered when it gets to the Senate.

“I know what the county auditors are asking, I think it makes sense for the taxpayers, but understand as soon as we start to change this, school districts are going to lose their minds because they don’t want to change the 20-mill floor,” Hall said. “That’s a fight that’s coming if that’s the route we decide to go, but right now I’m committed to getting 187 out of the House to give it a chance to even get done in time for this tax year. We are almost out of time already.”

Lang could not be reached for comment on the proposals. Commissioner Don Dixon, who spearheaded the war on the property value hike, said he fears the proposals could derail the effort completely. In order to make a difference for next year, the legislation must pass with an emergency clause that takes 60% approval.

He said the reason they inserted a three-year sunset into the bills is to give the legislature time to vet proposals like these.

“Am I upset with it, yeah, sure am,” he said, adding the auditors have tried to defeat the temporary law change twice. “This is the second time they’ve pulled this trick, but this is going to happen. This is going to get passed — maybe it will — but we probably won’t get the emergency clause.”

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