Hamilton annexation lawsuit will proceed

The Ohio Supreme Court has decided not to dismiss a lawsuit by St. Clair Twp. against Hamilton over annexations and taxes.
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The Ohio Supreme Court has decided not to dismiss a lawsuit by St. Clair Twp. against Hamilton over annexations and taxes.

The Ohio Supreme Court won’t dismiss a lawsuit cash-strapped St. Clair Twp. filed against the city of Hamilton seeking money lost due to a boundary shift following annexations.

Over the years, as Hamilton has annexed land from St. Clair, Fairfield, Hanover and Ross townships, the city did not get county commissioner approval for boundary adjustments, meaning residents in those townships should have voted for city council and township trustees, and the townships should have retained their property taxes.

PREVIOUS REPORT: High court orders St. Clair Twp. and Hamilton to settle case over lost taxes

However, the auditor’s office adjusted the boundaries and thus the taxes, and the Board of Elections disallowed multiple jurisdiction voting because both believed the annexations were finalized.

When the city was told about a probe into the matter, it received permission from commissioners in October 2016 to create a “paper township,” which adjusted the city’s boundaries to include the annexed properties.

The township’s legal advisor Gary Sheets says that action triggered a law that says townships must be compensated for 12 years for the money lost due to the boundary shift.

The Ohio Supreme Court last considered the case in November when the city asked for a dismissal, but now justices have denied that request and set a briefing schedule.

Hamilton claims the land in question was annexed prior to a 2002 law that provides compensation to townships. The city also told the court the township hasn’t presented any claims for which relief can be granted.

“The township alleges it has a right to lost tax revenues, yet it does not plead and has not presented a scintilla of evidence on what those revenues are, the properties from which the revenues derive or even the taxes that are to be applied,” Catherine Cunningham wrote for the city.

She went on to say the township has laid blame on Butler County auditors through the years “for not properly allocating and distributing inside millage over the past half century from territory where the township provided no services, had no electors and exercised no jurisdiction.”

MORE: Hamilton asks high court to dismiss St. Clair Twp. lawsuit

“The township implored the city to ‘recognize a moral obligation’ to St. Clair Township to make amends for the financial loss here inflicted on St. Clair Townshi,” Cunningham wrote. “Such an obligation is not a clear legal duty under any theory.”

Sheets said he is ready to take the case to the next step.

“We now look forward to convincing the Ohio Supreme Court that the Ohio Revised Code means what it says when it provides that should a municipal corporation decide to remove territory from a township and add it to the city limits, an obligation arises on the part of the municipal corporation to compensate the township for removing such township territory and adding it to the municipality,” Sheets said.

Neither Cunningham nor City Manager Joshua Smith responded to requests for comment on the court’s action.

The other townships that are also in this situation have not joined the court action.