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No quick fix for error in library tax

By DAVID SKOLNICK

Staff writer

YOUNGSTOWN — With about 3,300 parcels incorrectly charged about $631,000 in Mahoning County library levy payments between 2015 and 2018, state legislators are looking at ways to possibly reimburse them.

But it doesn’t appear the General Assembly has much interest in rectifying the situation, said state Rep. Don Manning, R-New Middletown.

“I’m having a few discussions to see if there’s anything we can do,” he said. “Right now, there’s no recourse to get that money back. We’re looking at what we can do looking forward for the future. But we’re also looking at it retroactively. We’ll see if there’s anything to do, but I don’t know if there’s interest in it.”

State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, said, “I sent the article (from The Vindicator) and information to the Legislative Service Commission to see if there’s something we can do through the Legislature and get some advice from them. At this point, I have to wait for them to look at it and get their legal opinion about if there’s something we can do about it.”

The Legislative Service Commission is an agency that provides the state Legislature with bill drafting, research, budget and fiscal analysis.

The parcels in nine taxing district in Mahoning County, that are in school boundaries of other counties, were incorrectly billed under the 2014 tax renewal levy of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County for years 2015 to 2018.

The problem has been resolved going forward, but there’s no current method to reimburse those who overpaid, said Mahoning County Auditor Ralph Meacham.

Those 3,300 parcels are in the boundaries of the Alliance, Columbiana, Hubbard and Leetonia school districts.

The parcels were incorrectly billed an average of $44.92 to $50.31 a year.

The library didn’t benefit from the mistake. Property owners incorrectly assessed taxes paid a portion that would have come from those in the library district. The meant a small tax break for those in the library district.

The errors were made when Michael Sciortino was county auditor. The nine districts were carved out of the library district in a General Assembly bill passed in 2012 and shouldn’t have been assessed the levy, Meacham said.

While the library was seeking a renewal of the levy on the Nov. 5, 2019, ballot — which was approved by voters — Meacham said his office was contacted Oct. 30 by a taxpayer questioning the library levy language and began investigating.

It wasn’t until mid-December that the auditor’s office learned, after reviewing documents and receiving assistance from the county prosecutor’s office, the specifics of the error.

There is a state law — Ohio Revised Code Section 5715.22 — that states after a complaint is discovered about property valuation that overpayment of taxes, assessments or charges can be offset by a deduction from future tax bills.

However, Meacham points out that ORC Section 5715.19 requires that those complaints be filed with the county’s board of revision on or before March 31 of the ensuing tax year. So, he said, the time limits for the incorrect taxes paid between 2015 and 2018 expired and state law doesn’t provide a method for recovering the taxes.

“This is horrible,” Meacham said. “I would be upset if I was a taxpayer in this situation. It’s something I inherited. I did research after finding out about the issue and it’s resolved going forward. But the problem wasn’t found in time to do anything about the previous years.”

Aimee Fifarek, the library’s executive director, said, “Our levy receipts were predetermined at the time the levy millage was set and the library received only the amount of funding it was entitled to — nothing more. Our mission remains to provided exceptional library service to all areas of Mahoning County.”

dskolnick<\@>tribtoday.com

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