Ohio bill would change how property tax levies are worded for voters, but not everyone agrees

Ohio House Bill 140 seeks to change the ballot language for levies in the state. This is a sample ballot of a Trotwood property tax issue voters approved in May 2019. FILE

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Ohio House Bill 140 seeks to change the ballot language for levies in the state. This is a sample ballot of a Trotwood property tax issue voters approved in May 2019. FILE

A plan to change ballot language for tax levies across Ohio has support from a group which calculates property taxes and opposition from entities which spend them.

Ohio House Bill 140 calls for ballot language to be written in a way that would tell voters what levies would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 and how much the amount the tax would generate annually.

Proponents tout the bill as a move for transparency and uniformity. Tax levies typically are sought by cities, school districts, townships, and other entities. They often seek voter support for property taxes to be collected over a period of years for a specific purpose - school funding; police and fire services; roads and bridge upkeep or other uses.

The plan’s detractors include groups representing many area taxing authorities. They say levies are too complex to be explained in the terms under consideration and also the bill is not needed because the information the bill calls for is often readily available to voters through other means.

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Voters at Wilson Middle School in Hamilton, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Voters at Wilson Middle School in Hamilton, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Voters at Wilson Middle School in Hamilton, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Voters cast their ballot on election day at Madison schools auxiliary gymnasium Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Madison Township. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Voters cast their ballot on election day at Madison schools auxiliary gymnasium Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Madison Township. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Voters cast their ballot on election day at Madison schools auxiliary gymnasium Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Madison Township. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Bond issues are included in HB 140, the second attempt in recent years to change property tax ballot language created in 1939, said Ohio Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Wauseon), its primary sponsor.

Merrin said the County Auditors’ Association of Ohio supports this current effort. The group did not back the previous effort to change the language.

‘Mathematical gyrations’

Ohio county boards of elections are responsible for approving ballot language for local issues and sending it to the Secretary of State’s office for review, according to state records.

Current levy ballot language can use phrases such as “at a rate not exceeding one (1) mill for each one dollar of valuation, which amounts to ten cents ($0.10) for each one hundred dollars of valuation, for five (5) years,” Ohio records show.

Greene County Auditor David Graham said this kind of language is less than ideal because most people don’t understand tax valuation, which is equal to 35% of the appraised value.

Additionally, “using $100 as the value base is ludicrous given current property values,” Graham told a house committee during testimony last month on HB 140 for the auditors’ group.

“The auditors’ association is supporting this bill because it adds transparency to the ballot language and puts the cost of the levy into terms that are very easy to understand,” Graham told the Journal-News.

“The language to me now is pretty meaningless,” he said.

With certain levies, “even if you can do all of the mathematical gyrations, you’re still going to get the wrong answer because you don’t know anything about effective tax rates when you’re sitting there…voting on an issue,” Graham added.

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HB 140 also has the backing of the Americans for Prosperity, the Ohio Manufactured Homes Association and the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association.

The bill is opposed by the Ohio Association of County Boards, Public Children Services Association of Ohio, Buckeye Association of School Administrators, Ohio Association of School Business Officials, Ohio Library Council, Ohio School Boards Association and the Ohio Township Association.

The bill has been the focus of hearings in the House Ways and Means Committee, which Merrin heads. He hopes to vote it out of committee within a month.

Merrin said his previous bill was passed by the House and Senate before being included as a provision in a 2019 budget bill.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed that section of the bill. But Merrin said his current version “has a lot of support.”


BY THE NUMBERS

•247B: Assessed valuation of real property in Ohio in 2017.

•1939: Year the Ohio Revised Code required millage expressed in a dollar amount related to $100 of property valuation.

•229: Pages in House Bill 140.

•90: Estimated % of the city of Beavercreek’s revenue funded by levies.

•19: Property tax issues on the ballot in Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties in May 2021.

Sources: Ohio Department of Taxation, Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, Ohio General Assembly, city of Beavercreek, boards of elections in Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties.

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