the Beacon Journal editorial board
The property tax burden has shifted dramatically in Ohio. As Howard Fleeter, an economist and longtime analyst of school funding, showed in a study last year, homeowners and farmers pay a much larger share. Since 1991, their tab has gone from 47.5 percent of total property tax revenue flowing to schools to 70 percent today.
In Akron, homeowners now pay almost two-thirds of the total, compared to 45 percent two decades ago. All of this translates into easing the burden on businesses and other commercial property owners, especially through the elimination of the tangible personal property tax.
Now, state Sen. Bill Coley, a Hamilton Republican, wants to accelerate the shift. He has proposed Senate Bill 85, a measure that would bar school districts from challenging the valuations of property. Districts long have used this tool when they suspect something is amiss, a property under valued and thus positioned to pay less in property taxes.
The schools are part of a larger system for counties establishing property values and, ultimately, the amount of the tax paid. An element of the system allows property owners to challenge the valuation, and even take the matter to the state Board of Tax Appeals. It makes sense that schools and agencies dependent on local tax dollars also have a choice to mount a challenge.
The process involves no less than the principle of checks and balances. It also reflects the principle of fairness.
As Doug Livingston, the Beacon Journal education writer, pointed out, the Akron Public Schools currently are challenging property valuations in which nearly $3 million for the district is at stake. State Sen. Coley argues that schools have “no direct stake in the property.” He is right, yet a district and its community have a huge indirect interest. Lose that contested sum, and the Akron schools must make spending cuts, or, in extending the logic of the Coley bill, it will face asking voters to support higher taxes and more revenue.
Livingston noted that in introducing the legislation, Coley cited “a substantial backlog of cases” at the Board of Tax Appeals. Yet that backlog since has disappeared. More, little evidence has surfaced to indicate that school districts are abusing the option. Most cases involve businesses seeking to lower their valuations.
Districts that depend on the goodwill of voters hardly want to gain the reputation of harassing businesses in a bid to get what they do not deserve. What schools are owed is a fair system, one that allows them a voice in setting accurate property values. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 85 would take that away and in the process push the property tax burden even more heavily on homeowners.