By Maggie Thurber | For Ohio Watchdog
As budgets have tightened, Ohio school boards are filing more Board of Revision complaints, challenging the property tax valuations in their districts in an effort to create short-term tax gains.
It’s all about fairness, according to testimony presented at the Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing Tuesday.
The schools boards don’t like S.B. 52, which would limit the right to file property tax complaints to the property owner or the owner’s agent, claiming it would make some property owners pay more in taxes than they should.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Bill Coley, R-Middletown, would restrict the ability of a school district, county, municipality or township to file a property tax complaint on a property it doesn’t own, requiring them to get a county recorder to file on their behalf.
Coley introduced an amendment to the budget bill to implement the language in S.B. 52, but it was removed by the Senate before passage.
Barbara Shaner, executive director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, said the bill would weaken school officials’ obligation to ensure that all taxpayers are treated fairly when school levies are imposed upon them. She spoke on behalf of her organization as well as the Ohio School Boards Association and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.
Shaner said that when one property is undervalued, other properties must pay the difference because of how levies are handled in the state.
“If some properties are undervalued at the time a levy is passed, the millage rate set for the levy must be higher than necessary to raise the funds requested by the district,” Shaner told the senators. “This means property owners, whose real property is set at a fair value, will pay more than necessary.”
But Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez thinks the issue is more about the money than any altruistic interest in fairness or accurate property valuations.
“(The school boards) never come back and say the price is too high,” she said. “When the economy was good, they didn’t seem interested in the fair price. They were willing to collect the additional taxes from the increased values and didn’t challenge them.”
Lopez said her goal as auditor is not to cater to one party over the other, but to ensure that all property values are accurate and fairly determined, even if that means less income for schools.
Shaner said that schools typically file challenges on commercial properties when there has been a sale to a new owner at a price that’s higher than the taxable value.
Lopez said that in Lucas County, “it seems that school boards have made conscious decisions not to challenge residential (values) unless there was a huge difference.”
She thinks it’s obvious why.
“(They) don’t challenge residential because they’re afraid of losing the vote — commercial property owners can only vote by moving the business,” she said, adding that she’s personally witnessed that result.
Committee Chairman Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, said S.B. 52 could be voted on by the committee as early as next week.