Pass law to fix ‘convoluted’ library tax mess

An Ohio Legislative Service Commission attorney says Ohio’s General Assembly “could adopt legislation” to rectify an error that led to owners of 3,300 parcels of land being incorrectly collectively charged $631,000 in Mahoning County library levy payments, but it would be complicated.

In response, state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, says she would sponsor legislation, even though it’s problematic — but first she’d want the county auditor, treasurer and the Ohio Department of Taxation to support it.

So far, it doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen because Mahoning County Auditor Ralph Meacham told a Vindicator reporter that such a resolution would be “convoluted,” “difficult” and impractical.

It sounds like our elected officials are willing to either pass the buck or admit failure. We aren’t giving up so easily.

Here’s the problem: Between 2015 and 2018, about 3,300 parcels in nine taxing districts in the county (but in school boundaries of other counties) were incorrectly billed under the 2014 tax renewal levy of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County.

It must be noted the library system is not to blame, and it saw no extra benefit due to the error.

The parcels — in the boundaries of the Alliance, Columbiana, Hubbard and Leetonia school districts — were erroneously charged an average of $44.92 to $50.31 per year in property taxes.

It doesn’t sound like much on the surface, but at the end of the day, it added up to about $631,000.

The library didn’t benefit from the mistake made under the administration of former Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino. That’s because property owners incorrectly assessed taxes paid a portion that would have come from those in the library district. That created a small tax break for the 162,000 or so property owners whose properties were actually located in the library district.

The problem was resolved at the end of last year going forward after a resident contacted the auditor’s office about a Nov. 5, 2019, ballot issue to renew the tax. But there’s no current method to reimburse those who overpaid.

The challenge in attempting to repay the overpaid taxes is that not all the overtaxed properties today are owned by the same person who owned the property in 2015 through 2018. That means the individuals who overpaid the property taxes in those years would not be made whole.

Similarly, if property owners in the library district are asked to pay an additional amount, some property owners who did not live in the district in 2015-18, but who do now, will be asked to pay amounts that should have been paid by the previous owners.

We understand it is — to use Meacham’s words — convoluted and difficult. But, as we’ve said before, difficult does not mean impossible. And let’s face it, it’s only right.

Lepore-Hagan says it could create pushback.

“I’m not sure what would come from this,” she said.

Likewise, Meacham explained it this way: “Not everyone paid their taxes in those districts or lived there for all of those years. It’s a complete hodgepodge. I don’t see us being able to go back. It wouldn’t be completely accurate. We’d have to go parcel by parcel for all 165,000 parcels. I don’t see any solution that would make everyone happy.”

As we have previously demanded in this space, property owners who were improperly assessed the taxes and who want to request their money back should have the right to do so.

So, in answer to Lepore-Hagan’s question about what would come of it, and to Meacham’s comment about failing to make people happy, we say this: Returning funds to those who request them will come of it. And that will make those taxpayers happy.



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