Local leaders say tax commissioner ‘dismissive’ of Butler Co. property tax hike questions

Commissioners call upon legislators for roundtable discussion in May.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The Butler County commissioners invited Ohio’s tax commissioner to meet with them about an anticipated double-digit value hike, to which she sent an explanation of how the process works. So they are issuing a “call to action.”

The Butler County commissioners invited State Tax Commissioner Patricia Harris to meet to discuss an estimated 24% property value hike on April 3. She responded Tuesday with a two-page explanation of how the state’s property valuation process works, but did not specifically address the invitation to meet. She essentially said her hands are tied by the Ohio Revised Code and state Constitution.

At the end of the letter she wrote, “If you still have questions and would like further discussion about the process, our team of experts can explain in further detail.”

Commissioner Don Dixon told the Journal-News, “I was not impressed at all with that letter, I thought it’s not a very good first impression for her office.”

Harris is the newly appointed tax commissioner in the wake of Jeffrey McClain’s retirement.

“I thought her letter was very dismissive to the problem,” Dixon said. “There was no let’s have the discussion about what we’ve got here and the facts and what we can do and what we can’t do.”

After he received the letter he fired off an email to a group of state legislators issuing a “call to action.”

“It was our intention to have a meaningful dialogue with the tax commissioner to find a reasonable solution to ensure our homeowners and businesses remain viable, affordable and to maintain our quality of life,” he wrote. “We believe it’s time we take the tax commissioner’s simple solution and get state government involved to remedy this unfair appraisal process.”

He asked them all to check their calendars to see if they can attend a roundtable discussion the first week of May. The email was sent to state senators George Lang and Stephen Huffman and representatives Thomas Hall, Sara Carruthers , Jennifer Gross, Rodney Creech.

Values skyrocketing elsewhere

Late last week, all of the other counties subject to the triennial property value update received recommended value increases except Butler County. The highest recommended hike is 43% in Clermont County just east of here and Montgomery County to the north was informed their values for residential properties should go up 37% — and commercial by 13%.

Of the dozen recommended increases eight were in the 30% range, two each in the 20% and 40% ranges. Butler County Auditor Nancy Nix told the Journal-News on Wednesday she still hadn’t received her increase recommendation — her office hasn’t finalized their own update numbers yet — but she believes based on the other update counties, it will be higher than the estimated 24%.

She told the Journal-News she believes the solution lies with the legislature.

“We’ve been saying all along it’s a legislative issue,” Nix said. “The only people with the authority or the power to lessen the property tax burden off of homeowners is our state legislature. We can complain to the tax commissioner, but they are following state law and the Ohio Constitution. The legislators are the ones that need to be at table, period.”

House Bill 1 was introduced Feb. 15 and has gone nowhere, it addressed a number things including income and property taxes.

Nix’s Real Estate Director Mike Stein said “House Bill 1 was very complicated and would have complicated the entire taxing system the way it sits now.”

The commissioners had wanted to address the extraordinary impact the pandemic and ensuing inflation has had on property values with Harris. The invite stated in part, “a topic of discussion may be do the current economic circumstances warrant a unique interpretation of post-COVID recovery and a reframing of economic principles on property valuations.”

In her letter Harris didn’t specifically discuss the pandemic but wrote this:

“The economic changes within a neighborhood, a county, a state, and the country all have an effect of the real estate market,” she wrote. “Those effects are chronicled in the recent, arm’s-length sale prices paid for real estate. The Department’s statutory process is driven by plain data applied uniformly across the state.”

Officials want more guidance and action

Dixon said the county was able to get the reappraisal numbers adjusted in 2008 — during the housing crisis that precipitated the Great Recession — so it isn’t as cut and dried as Harris makes it sound.

“They did it in 2008, they readjusted those and it was a substantial amount,” Dixon said. “Only because I said you can’t do this, it’s not fair. Look everybody’s losing their homes, what planet are you from. The first letter I got back from the tax commissioner was kind of pretty much like this one. I responded in kind of the same tone and they ultimately ended up adjusting a bunch of them. There is a way, they’ve done it before.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter told the Journal-News she just wants to understand how someone from Columbus can dictate values here and she was hoping the tax commissioner would have agreed to enlighten them in person so she could ask questions.

“I’m sure we all have to follow the ORC but a lot of these decisions are subjective,” Carpenter said. “So looking at how the subjective decisions are being made, we have said in Butler County we’re not sure we should be looked at exactly like every other county... Right now it looks like we’re all painted with the same broad brush and there isn’t a lot of consideration given to the variety of communities that are here.”

Harris also called out Commissioner T.C. Rogers for this statement he made to the Journal-News, “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.”

Harris wrote the state “does not get a single cent of the locally-levied property taxes.”

“It is imperative that the Commissioners understand that the Department of Taxation does not receive any portion of Butler County’s real property tax revenue,” she wrote. “Any additional money received from an increase in property taxes goes directly to the county.”

That is true, but Nix told the Journal-News previously, “the state does factor local tax values and valuations into their school funding formula, which does impact the largest portion of the tax distributions.”

Rogers didn’t discuss Harris criticizing him, but told the Journal-News they are acting responsibly in this matter.

“She says that the state doesn’t get anything for the property taxes and she’s actually following the law so take it up with the legislature, so that’s what we’re going to do,” Rogers said. “This is just a discussion questioning a significant increase which any business or even any individual let alone a local government would question.”

The legislature was in session on Wednesday so the Journal-News couldn’t reach most of the lawmakers. Rep. Thomas Hall, R-Madison Twp. said he hadn’t seen Dixon’s email yet but said “we are all for fighting it for our constituents in Butler County, this is an important issue.”

When officials here thought there might be a meeting with Harris, Lang said he’d join the fight.

“I think it’s bulls—t, I want to push back hard,” Lang said. “Our citizens just got hit in some of our communities with a 20% increase a few years ago and then now come back with a 24% increase on top of that, without even taking into consideration what the local folks have to say. That to me is an atrocity.”

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