Lakota to end criticized ‘sales chasing’ tax practice

A tax hiking policy that riled some local businesses will soon change, as Lakota Schools will end the practice of challenging – and often raising – the valuations of business properties.

The Lakota Board of Education voted 5-0 Monday evening to approve a resolution calling for a change in the district’s past practice – sometimes referred to as “sales chasing”- wherein the school system asks to raise tax rates paid by businesses.

A Journal-News investigation earlier this month revealed that Lakota was more aggressive than any other school system in Butler County in pursuing challenges to raise the rate of taxes paid by business developers during a recent five-year period.

Lakota officials installed a year-long moratorium in March 2019 on the practice and now will continue to abstain from the practice as a new, more restrictive policy is developed for the school board’s approval to be voted in a few months.

“I’m thankful we are moving in this direction,” said Board Member Lynda O’Connor, who along with member Todd Parnell opposed the sales chasing practice.

“It’s very positive for our business community and it will help enhance business support,” O’Connor said.

Lakota Schools tallied more than twice as many “original tax valuations complaints” from 2014-18 against new business development as any other local district, the Journal-News found.

These filings by Lakota often resulted in property and business owners paying thousands of dollars more in taxes for the land they purchased. Such tax valuation complaints are a legal option for Ohio school boards and are filed through boards of tax revision of county auditor’s offices.

But some area business executives and state and local officeholders argue Lakota harmed business development.

They complained Lakota has for years pursued higher tax bills for new businesses through filings, subsequent counter filings and eventual tax settlement agreements costing developers larger-than-expected tax burdens before they even open their businesses.

A review of Butler County Auditor records from 2014 to 2018 showed Lakota filed 117 original tax valuation complaints against area businesses and developers, which is 129 percent more than any other local school district.

The loss of potential business development – and possibly jobs, commercial tax revenue and ancillary business growth – caused by the practice hurts the local economy in the Lakota community and beyond, said some public officeholders.

“A small number of school districts in Butler County continue to chase sales even though the practice is anti-business and discriminatory,” said Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds.

“School districts hire contract attorneys to aggressively pursue real estate sales in an effort to increase the property value and raise the new property owner’s taxes,” said Reynolds. “The general consensus is schools only target people moving here from out of town, which I believe to be an unscrupulous policy.”

Lakota Schools encompasses both West Chester and Liberty townships and has the ninth largest enrollment of any Ohio public school system.

Liberty Township Trustee Christine Matacic came to the school board meeting and told members “we offer our support for a (new) policy.”

“Thank you for considering the impact some of your decisions have not only on schools but also on the community and businesses in the community,” said Matacic.

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