Hamilton sued by township over annexations

St. Clair Twp. has sued the city of Hamilton and wants taxes repaid that were lost due to annexations over the years.

The township’s legal advisor, has filed an action in the Ohio Supreme Court asking the justices to force Hamilton to pay monies the township would have otherwise received had the land not been annexed.

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

ExploreMORE: Review the documents in the St. Clair Twp. lawsuit

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

“It allowed Hamilton to legitimize what had prior to that time been an improper allocation of the real estate tax collected in the city of Hamilton,” Gary Sheets, the township’s legal advisor, told the Journal-News. “On Oct. 3, 2016 they conformed the boundary and they said, ‘OK, this legitimizes it. We don’t have to fix tax parcels in Hamilton…

“What I filed in the Supreme Court was a case that says, not so fast. There is a statute that says when a boundary adjustment is approved by the commissioners, because of the financial impact it can have on the township that was receiving taxes that will now go to the city, there is a 12-year weaning off period.”

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Sheets, the former Butler County Human Resources Director, said nobody has any idea how much money is at stake here, because no one ever did the impact calculation as land was annexed.

Butler County Assistant Prosecutor Roger Gates wouldn’t comment on the auditor’s office procedure for annexations but said “corrective action” was taken after it came to their attention.

“When Gary raised the issue, the auditor looked at the question, what was being done, there was an analysis of what the statutes required and ultimately action was taken to adjust the boundaries, actually to create the new township,” Gates said.

Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said he cannot discuss pending litigation.

In the city’s reply to St. Clair Twp.’s lawsuit, attorney Catherine A. Cunningham noted that Sheets’ claim the township should be compensated stems from a law enacted in 2002, and any annexations prior to that time would not apply. Some of the annexations might date back 200 years, she noted.

In asking the court to deny the action, Cunningham said there haven’t been any recent annexations and none since 2002 that would be subject to the compensation provision.

Sheets also filed an open records lawsuit against Butler County, claiming he was unable to see records of all boundary adjustment resolutions.

Gates said the county wasn’t withholding the documents.

“There was a binder put together and unfortunately it got misplaced,” Gates said. “It ended up down at the records center. When Gary asked to see it last September, the clerk at the commissioner’s office was unfamiliar with the existence of the book. It was subsequently found and he was provided with a copy.”

Butler County settled with Sheets this week for $1,000 — the penalty cap for public records request cases — in that case.

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