Other townships could seek funds in Butler County annexation fight

In the wake of the Ohio Supreme Court ruling on annexation compensation, other townships similar to St. Clair Twp. are considering seeking funds from the city of Hamilton, and at least one has decided against it.

The issue involves land Hamilton has annexed over the years from St. Clair, Fairfield, Hanover and Ross townships. In those annexations, the city did not get county commissioner approval for boundary adjustments, meaning residents in those townships should have voted for city council and township trustees, and the townships should have retained their property taxes.

The cash-strapped township has been wrangling with Hamilton over an annexation law the trustees’ lawyer asserts entitles it to 12 years’ worth of compensation for money lost due to annexations through the years.

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The high court handed down its decision earlier this month, denying the writ of mandamus in Hamilton’s favor. The court said while Hamilton owes the township, this particular form of legal action is not available because the township hasn’t proven how much the city owes.

“It is plain that under the current version of R.C. 709.19(B), a city is required to pay a township for tax revenue lost as a result of that city’s annexation and exclusion of township territory,” the decision added. “St. Clair has not shown with certainty the amount of lost tax revenue St. Clair Township is owed.”

Hamilton underlind in a statement that the high court denied the township’s action.

“The determination of any taxes that might be owed St. Clair Township involves complex and disputed facts arising over decades involving Butler County, the City of Hamilton and St. Clair Township, and various county taxing authorities that have not been identified by St. Clair Township or resolved,” the statement reads. “The Supreme Court acknowledged the complexity of St. Clair Township proving these matters. The City of Hamilton continues to review the decision of the Supreme Court.”

St. Clair Twp.’s legal advisor, Gary Sheets, said he will be filing another action in Butler County Common Pleas Court seeking the funds

When the Journal-News asked the other townships previously if they would join the suit against the city, Fairfield and Ross officials said they were considering it. Since the decision, Ross Twp. Administrator Bob Bass said he has talked to Sheets and given the amount owed could be “significant” he will likely recommend the township join any future proceedings.

“The question is, is there legitimacy to the fact that there was an error made in the process?” Bass said. “And if the answer is yes, which apparently it is, now you’re just talking numbers.”

He said the ultimate decision is up to the three trustees, and they will discuss the issue soon.

When asked about the matter, Fairfield Twp. Trustee Board President Shannon Hartkemeyer said “that’s something that the board will have to consider.”

Hanover Twp. Administrator Bruce Henry said the trustees have studied the matter previously, discussed it again last week and decided they will not pursue action.

“We’ve decided that, with that one caption there about a monumental task to figure out all these parcels and how much and all that, it was probably too much for us to tackle,” Henry said. “We’d have to make an outlay (of cash) with no guarantee of a return, or perhaps little return, and we’re satisfied with where we’re positioned at the moment.”

The township has had an agreement in place with the city since 1996 through which is receives $8,000 annually — the amount fluctuates based on a number of factors — from the city.

Sheets said he doesn’t believe the task of figuring out what is owned St. Clair will be “monumental” as the high court indicated in its ruling.

“I don’t personally believe it is, but there are two parts to this, one is reaching agreement on what parcels are in which township for the compensation number and two, getting the tax rate established,” he said. “I think that can be done.”

A spokesperson for the high court said the deadline for either side to ask the court to reconsider the most recent ruling expired Friday.

Matt DeTemple, executive director of the Ohio Township Association, said no other townships have contacted his association inquiring about any similar issue.

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