Taxpayer relief at forefront of next property value hike discussion

Butler County state lawmakers took swift action to address the proposed 42% property value jump and officials will meet again today to discuss the legislative fixes and other ways to give taxpayers a break.

Commissioner Don Dixon issued a “call to action” to the six state lawmakers who represent the county a month ago, to discuss the huge property value hikes recommended by the state tax commissioner. The group is holding a second summit today.

“We’re going to talk briefly about where we are, what the bills are and when can we expect some of that to become effective,” Dixon told the Journal-News. “The bigger part of the picture is how we move forward, how do we work on keeping a cap on our real estate taxes, the sustainability of getting and keeping lower real estate taxes is the goal. It’s been on kind of a runaway locomotive motion up to now.”

There are 13 county auditors in the throes of the triennial property value update and the average recommendation is 34%, but in southwest Ohio the percentages are all on the high end: Butler (42%), Clermont (43%), Greene (32%) and Montgomery (37%).

Properties statewide are reappraised every six years, and property values are updated every third year based on sales data. The shifts are reflected on tax bills the following year.

Sen. George Lang and Rep. Thomas Hall introduced tandem legislation after thw meeting with Ohio Tax Commissioner Patricia Harris last month. If the measures make it into the new budget bill, Harris would be required to give equal weight to sales in the three years prior to the reevaluation year. Harris put heavy emphasis on 2022 sales — which produced the huge the increases — which were impacted by pandemic-induced issues.

The equally weighted data produces an estimated average 25% hike for Butler and Montgomery counties, 28% for Clermont and 22% for Greene County.

Lang put an amendment in the Senate version of the new budget bill and he’ll know June 6 if it becomes part of the spending plan. Hall introduced a stand-alone bill that mirror’s Lang amendment, so his colleagues in the House won’t be surprised if it is included in the budget bill.

“There are many other good ideas to sit down and ponder and consider, but they are all more long-term fixes that will need a lot of vetting,” Lang told the Journal-News. “What we have is a short-term Band-aid, that’s all it is, it’s a short-term Band-aid that we can put in the budget to stop the bleeding we’re experiencing right now.”

Usually value hikes don’t automatically trigger tax increases to the same degree. There are mechanisms in place to ensure taxpayers are generally protected from huge value hikes. Voted levies are capped at the amount taxpayers approved. Unvoted taxes are allowed to be collected up to a certain level, by Ohio law. That level is 10 mills for governmental bodies and 20 mills for schools.

When a school district reaches the 20-mill floor, the millage will not decrease any further, which causes a school district to collect additional funding as values increase. The 20-mill floor only applies to operating levies, not bond, permanent improvement, emergency, or income tax levies.

The 20-mill floor factor will impact taxpayers — the schools collect 55% to 72% of property taxes — in Butler and Greene counties heavily. In Butler County Auditor Nancy Nix said only two of the school districts haven’t hit the 20-mill floor, so roughly two-third of the residents countywide will likely see hefty tax increases.

“The only thing we can say for sure is Lakota and Fairfield are the only school districts not at the 20-mill floor,” Nix said. “All the other 8 of 10 districts are at the 20-mill floor, meaning their taxes will by and large go up proportionately with their valuation increases. Which has not been the case in the past before this heavy inflation set in.”

Greene County Auditor David Graham said Bellbrook Sugarcreek Local School District is the only district that hasn’t hit the 20-mill floor. He said taxpayers in that district “will see an increase but not at the level of the other districts.”

“We have one school district that is not at the 20-mill floor, everybody else is at the floor,” Graham said adding taxes in the bulk of the county “will go up more significantly than what they will for the school district that isn’t at the floor.”

The situation in Montgomery County is basically the opposite, the Miamisburg School District is the only one — there are some districts that touch the county but are mainly in neighboring counties — at the floor.

Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith told the Journal-News “it’s not a value problem, it’s a tax problem” and school funding is at the heart of it.

“A lot of it comes back to school funding,” Keith said. “The big increases you will see across the state would be in those counties where the school districts are at the 20-mill floor. We are not, we only have one district.”

Nix told the Journal-News her team will address tweaking the proposed legislation and discuss the early, astronomical farmland value hikes at the follow-up summit.

Agricultural properties are leaping to 110% in Butler, the Greene hike is 75%, Montgomery County doesn’t have their number yet, but officials estimate it’ll be on par with Butler County. Unlike residential properties, which are based on fair market value, the Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) values are based “on a study of seven years of crop income and expense data with the highest year and lowest year being dropped from the analysis.”

Nix’s CAUV Administrator Berkley Rose told the Journal-News previously the giant increase is due to an erroneous supposition that farmers’ costs haven’t increased.

“They’re saying the price of commodity crops has increased significantly, in other words, the income stream to the farmers has increased that significantly,” Rose said. “But what we’re struggling with is that in that same formula the cost associated with those crops has remained relatively stable to flat. Any lay person not familiar with farming would have to say how is that possible.”

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