Citizens For A Better Norwood

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Ham. Co. Budget Commission approves Oak Hills Schools’ no-vote tax increase

Ohio Attorney General says it’s perfectly legal

We first blogged about this back in January when an Enquirer article reported the Oak Hills School District’s intention to bypass voters with an “inside millage” transfer scheme to collect more money from taxpayers every time property values go up. The Oak Hills School treasurer claimed most of the 3,000 people who attended pubic meetings about the proposal favored it. This past Tuesday, most of the Hamilton County Budget Commission members did, too, with Dusty Rhodes casting the only vote against the plan. Dusty, who lives in the OHSD, told the Enquirer, "I think it's a ruse and a sneaky way to get more from taxpayers without giving them the opportunity to vote on it. It's a trick and it's going to cost people and they don't have a say in it."

The last time Oak Hills voters approved a school levy was ten years ago. With this newly approved millage manuever allowing Oak Hills Schools to override voters, how long will it be before other Ohio school districts start using it as a hammer when voters refuse to approve school levies? Does this spell the end of taxpayers’ ability to hold school officials accountable for how they spend our education dollars? It certainly has that feel to us. But then, the potential backlash for schools is that members of COAST and COAST-like anti-tax groups may be more motivated than ever to run for school boards as the only way to stop automatic, unvoted tax increases. Ohio’s method of funding schools has been declared unconstitutional several times and remains unfixed, yet the Oak Hills scheme is perfectly legal. Go figure.

Yesterday’s Enquirer reported these essentials of the approved plan:

The issue: The Oak Hills School District is transferring 4.56 mills of its 6.56 total inside millage from its general fund to a "permanent improvement fund," where it will generate about $4.5 million to $5 million annually for anything from roofs and boilers to computers and textbooks.

What it means to the school district: By transferring the millage, the district can get more tax money every time there is a property reappraisal. So, as property values go up, so does the amount of money collected for school improvements. They say it's a way to pay for improvements without seeking a more costly tax levy.

What it means for property owners: Taxes for those living in the Oak Hills School District will go up starting in January. Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes estimates it will cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $300 a year in 2008. That will increase as property values go up.