Sunday, Sep 24, 2017
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Education

Springfield schools residents want district to drop property value complaints

Another group of Lucas County homeowners is speaking out against their school district’s practice of contesting property values in an effort to collect more tax dollars.

Springfield Local Schools district residents say they were caught off guard when they received letters in the spring from the Lucas County Board of Revision informing them their property taxes could increase because they bought their homes for more than their valuations on the tax rolls. Springfield Schools contests the value of homes sold for $50,000 above their appraised value, and their complaints jumped to 101 filed in 2016 from 22 in 2015, auditor’s records show.

District officials say it’s a longtime practice that allows them to collect extra dollars in an environment where school funding is scarce, but residents contend the move unfairly targets new homeowners in the community.

“This is not money that they counted on in the budget. This is extra money that, because of a legal loophole, they’re able to grab,” first-time home buyer Kevin Luce said. “It’s just not fair to the new homeowners.”

Mr. Luce bought his Springfield Township home in June, 2016 for $172,000, though it’s valued by the auditor at $120,800. He said his taxes will increase annually by about $1,330 if the school board wins its complaint. He said he spoke with other residents whose taxes will go up $5,000 or $6,000 annually.

Mr. Luce is spearheading a citizen group fighting the possible tax increase. He watched this summer as Sylvania residents organized in protest over the Sylvania School board’s complaints against 256 properties, up from just 45 complaints the year before.

The Sylvania school board last month dismissed all pending complaints, though board members stood by the practice as appropriate for maintaining school funding.

Springfield Treasurer Ryan Lockwood said the additional tax revenue helps fund programs that keep Springfield Schools competitive. Technology, new courses, and college credit programs come at a cost, he said.

The district stands to receive about $216,000, should it win each complaint, the auditor said. The district’s annual general fund operating budget is about $40 million.

“Traditionally public education has had to bear the brunt of a lot of unfunded mandates and changes at the state level,” Mr. Lockwood said. “This is one kind of statutory loophole that districts can [use to] see an increase in funding.”

Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez was a vocal critic of Sylvania Schools’ practice and said she wants to see Springfield Schools drop their complaints, too.

“People are buying. They’re finally getting out of the rut that the recession put us in, and now you’re going to slap them with unexpected costs. That’s how you stunt growth,” she said. “Welcome to Lucas County. We’re going to try to double your property taxes.”

She said she hopes districts will wait until her office completes its six-year revaluation of properties in 2018. That’s when all homes will be revalued, and taxes will be adjusted fairly across the board, she said.

Mr. Lockwood said citizens have not yet addressed the school board to voice their concerns. He added he wants to see school boards and the auditor’s office work together to pressure the state to improve school funding models.

“To pit local governments against each other is kind of silly,” he said. “I think we should be getting together to fight Columbus to change the property taxation laws.”

Ms. Lopez agreed that school funding structures need to be revamped at the state level.

“My biggest concern for Ohio right now is we’re at a point where property taxpayers are being pitted, legally, against school districts,” Ms. Lopez said. “The state has put us in this situation, but I can’t sit by and allow school districts to keep going after citizens who are trying to invest in our community.”

The Springfield Board of Education is holding a special meeting at 5 p.m. Monday. Board members likely will meet mostly in executive session to discuss matters with the board’s attorney and consider the discipline of a public employee, according to a meeting notice. The board will hold a regular meeting at 3 p.m. Sept. 27, and the citizens group plans to speak.

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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