Miami Conservancy District weighs pause on controversial flood protection plan

Ohio lawmakers asked for delay in letter to board; director says pause could take months to find best solution.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The Miami Conservancy District’s general manager will ask board members to approve a pause in implementing new rates for flood protection services that had upset many property owners in recent weeks.

General Manager MaryLynn Lodor said Thursday she would ask the three-member board of directors next week to approve a pause in the reappraisal of assessments to allow time for a deep look into methods the district uses to assign assessments to properties.

She said the century-old agency “is not here to penalize Hamilton or any other community.”

“We care very much about the economic growth and vitality of the region,” she said. “We want to see all of the areas up and down the river thrive. I really want to work with communities so we can continue that vision of this is an oasis along the river that will get to benefit from a resilient flood protection system.”

Data obtained by this news organization shows the proposed assessments would have left owners of hundreds of properties across the region paying more than $1,000 a year for flood protection. This includes dozens of properties that could pay more than $10,000 per year; one property owner is looking at assessments of roughly $478,000.

The MCD provides flood protection in Butler, Hamilton, Montgomery, Miami and Warren counties.

Lodor said the MCD wants to help ensure and protect the economic vitality of the communities by protecting them from future flooding events, such as the one in 1913 that devastated the region. The conservancy district was created in the years after the Great Flood more than 100 years ago.

Lodor’s announcement came a day after state lawmakers and a U.S. Congressman sent letters to the MCD echoing what Hamilton City Council already has asked the board to do regarding planned higher assessments to property owners for flood protections: Pause.

“I think what we’re trying to do right now is to slow the car down a little bit, and then I’m looking forward to getting into this a little bit and figure out what we can do to help MCD,” said Ohio Rep. Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria, who is drafting a letter to the Miami Conservancy District Board of Directors. “The big thing is that a lot of this came as a shock to many.”

In the letter, lawmakers asked the Miami Conservancy District, which is funded through the assessments on properties impacted by the 1913 flood, to “pause their current property value reappraisal and reconsider the methodology used.” The letter was signed by 18 lawmakers, including all four from Butler County.

While this assessment impacts more than 43,000 properties across the region, nearly 900 properties will see Miami Conservancy assessments on the annual tax bills exceeding $1,000, including more than 200 in Butler County. More than 83% of the people paying the maintenance and capital assessments would see their MCD assessment at less than $250.

The Miami Conservancy District has proposed a new 1% capital assessment and a 0.59% increase to the 2.19% maintenance assessment thousands of residents are already paying. The assessments will cover costs related to the upkeep and rehabilitation of the levee and dam system.

According to the Miami Conservancy District, the region’s flood protection system is seeing more frequent and intense rainfall now than in the system’s history.

Storage events occur when heavy rainfall is held back by dams in the system — the conservancy district has seen a 228% increase in the number of storage events over the past 80 years.

The new assessment and increased rates are being applied to updated property values. Rates are currently based on values from 12 years ago. So combined with recent, historic increases in property values, the charge increase on some properties is substantial.

Lodor said her recommended pause could take perhaps 12 to 14 months, and they would reflect on the current funding approach, benchmark with other similar organizations and evaluate other models to seek best practices. The goal would be trying to find “what is the best way to do this for really the next 50 years.”

In the meantime, Lodor said, they will manage the assets they have.

“We are good stewards of the financial resources we have,” she said.

The issue has also grabbed the attention of Congressman Warren Davidson, R-Troy, who sent a letter Monday to Gov. Mike DeWine, Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Jason Stephens, encouraging them to “review and update (Ohio’s) laws governing conservancy districts” as the recent assessment announcements “have highlighted substantial taxation authority lacking adequate public recourse that threatens taxpayers and the vitality of communities.”

Davidson applauded community and elected leaders rallying opposition to the new assessments, but he highlights there are thousands of assessed property owners who essentially “lack representation” in this matter.

The nine Common Pleas Court judges who are involved in the review and approval of the reappraisal of benefits methodology are the only elected representation for taxpayers, Davidson said. However, the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct says a judge “shall not be swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism” and “shall not convey or permit others to convey the impression that any person or organization is in a position to influence the judge.”

When the assessments were made public, some in Butler County went into sticker shock. Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill will see its assessments of its two properties increase more than 50 times, collectively jumping from just more than $8,800 a year to nearly $478,000.

Before Lodor said she would recommend the pause, Creech said “the timing couldn’t be worse” for the assessment announcements.

“My thinking was we need to come together as legislators and say, ‘Hey, we understand there’s a problem and we need to sit down and talk about it, and not rush into this,’” he said. “They need funding, and I can’t say enough great things about MCD and what they do, but we cannot just be wiping out people and businesses to accomplish the goal.”

Creech said nothing legislatively would be done until they sit down and talk with conservancy district officials.