County to pay Oakhill tax bill


Oakhill Renaissance Place

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Mahoning County Commissioner John McNally

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Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti

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Dave Ludt

Liabilities total $565K

By Peter H. Milliken


Mahoning County Commissioner John A. McNally IV had warned his colleagues they could not escape Oakhill Renaissance Place’s tax liabilities.

His warning came true Thursday. The commissioners unanimously agreed to pay $565,125 in back real-estate taxes and interest on the facility.

McNally and Commissioners Anthony T. Traficanti and David N. Ludt voted to pay the money in 10 installments over the next five years.

“Finally, we’ve come to the realization here in Mahoning County that we are responsible for those back property taxes. We’ve been trying to dodge that responsibility for four years,” McNally said after the vote.

“It’s sort of a Merry Christmas to the county treasurer to begin collecting those taxes and getting those monies out to the school boards” and other public entities that will receive the proceeds, McNally added.

The taxes are for the period when Southside Community Development Corp. owned Oak-hill before the county bought the former hospital in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, paying $75,000 for the complex but assuming all its liens and encumbrances.

SCDC filed for Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy in 2006.

The Ohio Board of Tax Appeals last May upheld a ruling by William Wilkins, state tax commissioner, that Oakhill didn’t qualify for a real-estate-tax exemption under SCDC because “the property was not used exclusively for a charitable purpose.”

McNally said he believes no real-estate taxes apply to Oakhill after the county bought it in July 2006.

“We continue to hope and work toward what we call amnesty legislation in Columbus,” that could absolve the county of responsibility for Oakhill’s back taxes, said Atty. Raymond D. Anderson, of the Vorys law firm in Columbus, which has been handling this issue for the county.

Anderson noted that legislation has been adopted to grant tax amnesty to the former Lazarus department store in downtown Columbus, which is now owned by the Columbus Downtown Development Corp. and occupied by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies.

Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center, which now houses the county’s Department of Job and Family Services, Veterans’ Service Commission and coroner’s office, the city health department and the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership.

The county is in the process of moving more agencies to Oakhill from its South Side Annex on Market Street, including the recycling division, board of elections and auto title department.

McNally, county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino and former county Treasurer John B. Reardon, opposed the county’s purchase of Oakhill, citing unknown costs to acquire, repair, renovate and operate the complex.

All three are now under indictment for allegedly conspiring with the Cafaro Co. to impede the move of the county’s Department of Job and Family Services from Cafaro Co.-owned rented quarters on the city’s East Side to Oakhill. JFS moved to Oakhill in July 2007.

The commissioners also approved a concessionary labor agreement ratified Tuesday by the sheriff’s department’s gold unit, which consists of captains, lieutenants and sergeants belonging to Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 141.

The 28-member gold unit approved an 18-month agreement retroactive to July 1, accepting a pay freeze and elimination of uniform allowances and longevity pay, as did the blue unit, which represents nonranking deputies. Additionally, gold-unit members agreed to a ban on overtime.

The sheriff, who earlier had proposed to lay off 14 deputies Dec. 26, said the gold unit’s vote to ratify the agreement makes layoffs unlikely.

The county will spend $16.2 million this year to operate the sheriff’s department.

“It’s expected next year that appropriations to maintain the same level of service will be somewhere around $13.5 million,” observed George J. Tablack, county administrator and budget director.

The county commissioners have not yet adopted a 2011 budget.

As effects of the economic recession linger, the county budget commission has projected next year’s general-fund revenues at $51,412,860, compared to $53,094,744 this year.

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