OHIO'S PROPERTY TAXES
by Carolyn J. Blow
(Adapted from Ohio's Replacement Levy by the same author)
Ohio's property tax system is beyond the comprehension of most citizens only because most citizens would rather just pay their taxes than try to understand it. With time and study, the tax system is understandable. If the reader is new to this subject, he should not be discouraged if he doesn't "get it" after having read the paper only once.
With a grasp of taxation, individuals are more able to influence government officials and to vote in a knowledgeable manner. In general, whoever controls the money controls the programs.
PART 1: THE BASICS OF PROPERTY TAXATION
This treatise deals predominantly with the taxation of real property. In Ohio, for tax purposes, "real" property (real estate) is divided into two categories, or classes, one being residential and agricultural and the other being commercial and industrial (also referred to as "other real property" or "nonresidential/agricultural"). Properties in both classes are "assessed" at 35 percent of the appraised market value, which is determined by the county auditor; for example, a $100,000 property is assessed at, and taxed on, $35,000. (For some types of properties, such as farms, current use is considered in determining their value for taxation purposes.)
The monetary unit of taxation is the mill, which is one-tenth of one cent ($.001). A levy, or tax, is for a certain number of mills for each dollar of assessed valuation. (One mill of tax is equal to $1.00 for each $1,000 of assessed valuation.) Each levy is for the duration of a certain number of years or for an indefinite number of years; in the latter case it is said to be "continuing."
The tax on a property for any particular levy is not computed with the originally voted millage. Rather, it is computed with what is known as the "taxable" millage, or "effective" millage, which is generally less than the voted millage. This can best be made understandable with an explanation of the very important House Bill 920.
To replace an earlier law, in 1976 the Ohio General Assembly passed H.B. 920, which is found in the Ohio Revised Code, Section 319.301. Unlike most laws, it is still generally known by its bill name, House Bill 920, because it is so important. The purpose of the law is to keep a lid on what would otherwise be run-away property taxes on homes and businesses. The law also has the effect of keeping government programs and spending from running amuck. (School and other government officials dislike H.B. 920 because they would like to have an ever-increasing stream of revenue without voter approval.)
Here's how H.B. 920 works: Property values generally increase at a faster rate than do the funds needed to operate any school or other government agency in an appropriate manner. Therefore, to control taxes, as the total value of all properties combined in a school district, county, or other taxing entity's district goes up because of updated property values and new construction added to the mix, the millage on which property taxes are figured is reduced so that the total revenue generated by a particular levy remains fairly constant. This revenue-stabilizing millage that decreases every year as aggregate property values rise is the effective millage. It is what is in effect, so it determines the tax that property owners pay. The voted millage is not "in effect," so it is not used to figure the tax.
To accomplish this stabilization of revenue, the state tax commissioner determines a tax reduction factor from property value information that the county auditor gives him. This factor is derived by comparing the total value of "carryover property" in each class in a taxing district from one year to the next. Carryover property is property that is on the current year's tax list and that was also on the previous year's tax list in the same class. Obviously, then, new construction is not immediately included in the total valuation of any district, but it is taxed nevertheless. Consequently, each new construction provides extra tax revenue for a taxing district till it is included in the carryover property.
The tax reduction factor is used to determine the taxable, or effective, millage that would keep the revenue fairly constant year to year for each particular levy. The effective millage is carried to six decimal places, for example, 2.406458 mills. If the numeral in the sixth decimal place is a zero, such as with 5.341980 mills, the millage might be stated with only five decimal places, 5.34198 mills, because the zero at the end has zero value.
A levy that has a taxable millage of 5.34198 could conceivably have been voted at 6.5 mills twenty years ago. The effective millage is closest in value to the voted millage when a tax is new, and the gap between the voted and effective millage widens each year the levy is in effect as the combined property values in a taxing district continue to increase. The gap widens most dramatically with the six-year property reappraisals and the midterm updates because the auditor-appraised value of the totality of properties in a taxing district generally increases the most at those times. (Factors such as location, building additions, and damage affect the value of – and tax increase or decrease on – individual properties.)
The voted millage on both classes of property is the same. However, for the purpose of figuring the effective millage during the years a levy is operative, the two classes of property are considered separately because there is usually a difference between the rate of growth of the residential-agriculture properties and that of the commercial-industrial properties. The effective millage, then, is usually different for the two classes. (A tax for businesses on tangible personal property [machinery, equipment, fixtures, furniture, and inventory] is figured with a different assessed rate and does not receive a reduction factor.)
The various levies that a property owner pays generally apply to districts that are of different sizes and that have different types and values of property. The taxing district for a levy could be an entire county, a township, a school district, or so on. The reduction factor that is applied to each levy depends on the makeup of the properties in the taxing district and is therefore different for each taxing district.
After the reduction factor is applied to a levy, a 10-percent rollback (subtraction) is applied to each non-business real property owner's tax (ORC, 319.302). (see sidebar) The "homestead" portion of one's property is adjusted with an additional rollback of 2.5 percent (ORC, 323.152). The homestead is defined as an owner-occupied dwelling (house) or a unit occupied as a home in a housing cooperative, with the land surrounding it that does not exceed one acre, and with no more than one attached or unattached garage (or comparable outbuilding). The 2.5-percent homestead rollback is not applied to the tax on any portion of one's property that exceeds that. A homeowner whose property exceeds an acre or has extra buildings on it can ask the county auditor for the value of the homestead portion of his property so that he can compute his 2.5-percent rollback. The homestead of most city or town homeowners includes their entire property. Some elderly and disabled homeowners or their surviving spouses can receive a further tax deduction, which is dependent on their income (ORC, 323.152). (A note to dampen the gladness over all these rollbacks is that the state reimburses the county [which reimburses the taxing district] for the rollbacks. That means that people who pay state taxes are footing the bill for what would be part of their own property tax and that of some other property owners, as well.)
In calculating the most typical homeowner's tax on the assessed value of his primary dwelling (when his "homestead" is his entire property), after the tax is computed with the effective mills, the figure is multiplied by 87.5 percent (100 % - 10 % - 2.5 % = 87.5 %), or .875, to find the total property tax he pays after rollbacks are applied. The tax on a homeowner's total tax bill and on each individual levy is figured the same way.
Following is the computation for the property tax for a levy with 2.406458 effective mills on a $100,000 home on a typical city lot (assessed at 35 %) that receives the 10 percent and 2.5 percent rollbacks: .35 X $100,000 X $.002406458 X .875 = $73.70.
The above example could very well represent the tax on a renewal levy, which might have been voted at 3 mills 15 years ago, for example. The ballot, however, would not show the effective 2.406458 mills. Rather, the ballot would say that the issue is for the renewal of 3 mills, which is the originally voted millage of the existing levy. That is, the levy continues to have its old "name" despite the fact that 3 mills is not the effective rate of the tax to be renewed. After the levy is renewed at 2.406458 mills, it would still be referred to as a 3-mill tax.
The tax on each new or renewal levy can commence (that is, be applied) the same calendar year that it is voted, or the following year, depending on the resolution, but the tax is always collected the year after it is applied. Therefore, it is either one or two calendar years after a vote that a person begins paying the
PART 2: WHY PROPERTY TAXES CONTINUE TO GROW: KINDS OF LEVIES AND GOVERNMENT MANIPULATION
The reader might be wondering why his property tax bill continues to rise despite the reduction factor provided by Ohio House Bill 920 (1976) and the rollbacks. The most obvious reason for the ever-increasing taxes is that citizens continually vote for new taxes. Some less obvious reasons are addressed below.
Taxes grow because the reduction factor of H.B. 920 does not apply to all levies. For example, according to ORC, 319.301, the reduction factor does not apply to taxes "levied within the one per cent limitation imposed by Section 2 of Article XII, Ohio Constitution." That one percent is the limit at which taxes can be levied on the true value of any property for all state and local purposes unless additional taxes are voted by the electors or are provided by the charter of a municipal corporation. This restriction is called the "one per cent limitation" or "one per cent limit."
At this point, an inconsistency in the Revised Code needs to be addressed. Section 5705.02 defines the "ten-mill limitation" as a limit of ten mills (one percent) of tax on each dollar of tax valuation, or assessed value (unless more is specifically authorized). It then states, contradictorily, that wherever the term "ten-mill limitation" is used in the Revised Code, it refers to and includes the "one per cent limitation." Then, in Section 5705.51, the terms are defined as being different and more in line with how they are generally used: the "one per cent limit" pertains to true value of property, and the "ten-mill limit" pertains to tax valuation.
Within the ten-mill limitation, ten mills of tax are levied on each dollar of assessed value of property without a vote of the electorate. These are called "inside" mills. Taxes with inside mills grow as property values grow; that is, the reduction factor does not apply. These ten mills are divided among several of the government subdivisions as specified by ORC, 5705.31(D). Each of those taxing authorities is authorized to divide its share of inside mills into separate levies for current expenses (operation), debt charges, and special levies (ORC, 5705.04).
Levies that are permitted beyond the 10-mill limitation are said to have "outside," or "voted," mills (even though some are not voted by the electorate). While most levies with outside mills benefit from the reduction factor of H.B. 920, some grow with property values. For example, according to ORC, 319.301, the reduction does not apply to taxes authorized by the charter of a municipal corporation or taxes levied to produce a specified amount of money (called "fixed-sum levies"), such as school "emergency levies" (explained later), or taxes required to pay debt charges. (see sidebar)
As pertaining to debts of a subdivision, when certain other funds are insufficient for paying the "exempt obligations" and "any other outstanding non-voted general obligations," a non-voted tax is to be levied "in excess of the ten-mill limit, but within the one per cent limit as to any property" (ORC, 5705.51). (Here the two "limits" are clearly different, and the reader can see – despite fuzzy definitions in the Code – that not all of the one percent of true value loses the reduction all the time, whereas the one percent [ten mills] of assessed value never receives the reduction.)
Government debt can make the rollbacks on real property disappear, too. The 10-percent non-business rollback, the 2.5-percent homestead rollback, and the elderly, disability, and spousal rollbacks on real property are reduced or eliminated altogether when there would be insufficient funds for payment of debt charges (ORC, 319.302[B]; 323.152[D]).
In addition to those ways that make property taxes grow, local government officials and the legislature (prodded by local officials) have devised more methods to increase revenue from real property taxes. Some of these are discussed here.
The simplest method is timing by local officials. The various government entities collaborate to put their many different levies on the ballot at different times because taxpayers would rebel were they to be presented with the many taxes all at once. Also, officials try to get new taxes passed right after the sexennial property reappraisals and triennial updates so as to get the most dollars for the millage. Other methods are more involved and are generally aimed at eating away at the benefit of H.B. 920.
Ohio law states that school districts may not have less than 20 effective mills of tax for current operating expenses for either class of property (ORC, 319.301[E]). This requirement is often called the "20-mill floor." A school district might have, for example, 21 mills of voted taxes for current operating expenses along with 3 inside mills that are also used for operation. While the 3 inside mills could not decrease in effective millage because the reduction factor does not apply to inside mills, the 21 voted mills could decrease over the years to perhaps, for example, 16.6 effective mills because of the aggregate increase in property values in the district and the reduction factor. Total effective mills for operation would then be only 19.6 mills (3 inside mills + 16.6 outside mills). If that happens, taxes are adjusted upward by 0.4 mill, without a vote of the people, till the 20 effective mills are met (3 + 16.6 + 0.4 = 20). A similar non-voted increase continues year after year as long as the combined value of properties in the district increases and other current expense levies are not passed. (Vocational schools have a 2-mill floor.)
Schools that are close to the 20-mill floor often put what are called "emergency levies" on the ballot. Aside from a favorable vote that might be generated by the emotional term "emergency," another reason school districts use emergency levies in preference to regular levies is that emergency levies are not counted in the 20-mill floor because they are for a fixed dollar amount rather than a specific rate. Therefore, the district benefits from the emergency levy while also benefiting from non-voted tax increases from other operating levies that do count in the floor.
By law, emergency levies may be proposed to provide for an emergency or to prevent an operating deficit (ORC, 5705.194). However, that is often said to be the purpose of other kinds of levies, as well. School personnel argue that emergency levies are for a fixed sum and not for mills and therefore should not or could not be counted in the 20-mill floor. However, emergency levies are figured in mills for the ballot and for each year they are in effect, and at one time they were counted in the 20-mill floor by law. Their use is a strategy to get more tax money.
Schools also use the "permanent improvement" property tax because that tax, like the emergency levy, does not count toward the 20-mill requirement for current operating expenses. The use of the permanent improvement tax is limited to assets and improvements that have at least a five-year life expectancy, but it frees up other taxes for current operations.
When a school district's operating millage is at the 20-mill floor, another way the district can manipulate levies that might be advantageous to it and produce more revenue is to reallocate its inside millage (a public hearing by the board is necessary for any such change [ORC, 5705.314]). With this action, current expense millage that had been inside millage would be changed to outside millage, and permanent improvement millage would be changed from outside millage to inside millage. The purpose of the swap is to get more of the millage for operations into outside millage where the reduction factor would work on it in order to provide even more automatic non-voted tax growth. Meanwhile, the permanent improvement mills that become inside millage would grow with property values (when they were outside mills, the reduction factor applied).
Yet another means to grow property taxes for schools came about with H.B. 530 in 2006. The law (ORC, 5705.211) authorizes an additional property tax for current operating expenses to be approved by the electors at such a rate that the total taxes charged by the levy each year are sufficient to offset any reduction in basic state funding caused by increases in real estate values. The rate of the tax could be set to cause revenue generated from the levy to increase by up to 4 percent, inclusive, each year, but it could be set at a lesser rate. The tax increase would occur each year for a minimum of five years, and may be continuing – year after year after year.
The legislature has also passed laws for real property tax increases that are not just for schools. With the reduction of taxes on tangible personal property of electric companies (S.B. 3 in 1999) and natural gas companies (S.B. 287 in 2000), all fixed-sum levies that were in existence in 1998 and 1999, respectively, and continued to exist in the tax year preceding the distribution year, were automatically – and quietly – increased by up to 1/4 mill, inclusive, to help compensate school districts and local taxing units for their "fixed-sum levy loss," that is, the gradual loss of tangible personal property taxes for emergency levies and levies for paying debts (ORC 5727.84[H]). The state makes up any difference between the tax loss and ¼ mill (minus a county administration fee loss reimbursement [ORC, 5727.87]). The added property tax and state payments began in 2002 and they even cover emergency levies that are continually renewed after 2002 through 2016 and debt levies beyond that if they are still in effect. (Details on these levy and fee losses are located in ORC, 5727.84 to 5727.87.)
With H.B. 66 in 2005 (revised with H.B. 530 and S.B. 321 in 2006), the state is phasing out tangible property taxes on other businesses, and the property tax on qualifying fixed-sum levies is automatically increased by up to ½ mill, inclusive, to compensate local government units for the phased-out taxes. The state reimburses the school district or local taxing unit for any tax loss above 1/2 mill (minus a county administration fee loss reimbursement [ORC, 5751.23]). Qualifying school district emergency levies include renewals for a certain period of time. Local millage and state payments continue for voted debt levies till they expire. (Details on these levy and fee losses are located in ORC, 5751.20 to 5751.23.)
Questioning the legality of these non-voted, outside-millage add-on taxes, some people both in and out of government have voiced strong disapproval of them. Voters had not agreed to the extra millage when they originally voted for the emergency and debt levies. Further, some legislators said that because the tangible property taxes would have been paid, it was all right to add non-voted taxes to fixed-sum levies.
The last tax to be addressed is the "replacement levy." Because it is the most deceptive and confusing of all taxes, it is given separate treatment via Part 3.
PART 3: THE DECEPTIVE REPLACEMENT LEVY
The replacement levy, authorized by the Ohio General Assembly in 1990 (Ohio Revised Code, Section 5705.192), is a specific kind of property tax that has been used for the purpose of generating more money for a government subdivision or agency. Because it replaces an existing tax, it is a new tax. It is not a renewal tax.
Replacement levies have generated large amounts of revenue, but often that's not because voters have been so generous. Rather, voters have been misled and are confused.
The root of the problem with replacement levies is that the ballot compares the proposed millage with the old, no-longer-in-effect, originally voted millage of the existing levy. (The old voted millage is not always shown or designated as such on the ballot; sometimes it is merely implied, as in Ballot Examples No. 1 and No. 3 below.) To be clear and correct, the ballot should compare the proposed millage to the effective millage of the existing levy because that is the comparison that reflects what would happen to the property owner's tax with passage of the levy.
Some local government officials and other levy proponents are well aware of the problem and have taken advantage of the deceptive ballot language and have put out misleading levy campaign advertisements, articles, letters to the editor, and speeches. For example, they have emphasized "no increase in millage" or "reduction in millage" by using the false comparison of the proposed millage with the irrelevant voted millage of the existing levy. They have even said "no increase in tax," which is untrue no matter what millage is used. Unfortunately, some other public officials throughout the state still do not understand replacement levies. Also unfortunate is that newspapers and other media do insufficient investigative reporting and rarely publish information about tax issues other than what is handed to them by taxing authorities.
Replacement levies are presented to voters in three ways: "replacement," "replacement and increase," and "replacement and decrease." Not obvious from those terms is that all three are used to increase a tax. The operation of each and the reason they are so confusing to voters can best be shown with examples of actual tax issue ballots. The ballots reproduced in this treatise have been presented to voters in Greene County. The levies, ballot examples, and resultant voter confusion are typical of that found all over the state.
Since much of voters' confusion has come from their thinking that replacement levies are renewal levies or from their having no idea how much greater a replacement levy is than a renewal, the explanation for each of the examples below includes a comparison of what the tax was as a replacement levy versus what it would have been as a renewal levy.
For simplicity, the following examples all deal with only the residential-agricultural class of real property. A $100,000 typical city/town residence assessed at 35 percent of its value with 12.5 percent in rollbacks is used to show the cost of the levies. (The taxes are 87.5% of what they would have been without the rollbacks.)
Ballot Example No. 1
The first ballot, presented in November 1999, is the plain "replacement" levy for 1 mill:
On a $100,000 residence, the cost of this proposal was this: 35% X $100,000 X $.001 X 87.5% = $30.63.
This replacement levy represents an increase compared to the existing tax that it replaced. Because of House Bill 920 (1976), taxpayers were not being taxed on the full 1 mill that had been voted years before. Instead, as the aggregate value of properties in the county increased, the effective millage on which their tax was figured had gradually decreased in order to keep the revenue for the government on that levy at a fairly constant amount. In fact, the effective rate had decreased to 0.844364 mill.
If the 1-mill tax that had been in existence had been renewed instead of replaced, voters would have been voting on the then-effective millage of the existing levy, which was 0.844364 mill. (Even though the effective millage is less than 1 mill on such a renewal, the levy keeps its originally voted 1-mill "name.") A renewal levy would have cost a homeowner with a $100,000 home this amount: 35% X $100,000 X $.000844364 X 87.5% = $25.86.
Comparing $30.63 with $25.86, or 1 mill with 0.844364 mill, the replacement levy cost about 18½ percent more than the existing tax.
Many voters thought they were voting for a renewal levy. The ballot provides no indication that the proposal is for a tax increase, much less, how great an increase.
Ballot Example No. 2
The second ballot, presented in November 2001, is for a "replacement and increase." It replaces a 0.3-mill existing levy and adds 0.2 mill:
This proposal amounts to two tax increases in one vote: the hidden increase in the replacement tax part of the levy and the obvious 0.2-mill increase.
The proposed tax for just the 0.3-mill replacement tax part of the ballot was this amount: 35% X $100,000 X $0.0003 X 87.5% = $9.19.
The 0.3-mill tax includes a hidden increase because what is not shown on the ballot is the effective rate of the existing levy that was to be replaced, which was only 0.283881 mill. Had the existing levy been renewed rather than replaced, the cost would have been this amount: 35% X $100,000 X $0.000283881 X 87.5% = $8.69.
Therefore, just the 0.3-mill replacement tax is nearly 6% percent greater than the existing levy. That's without the obvious 0.2-mill increase.
The cost of the entire 0.5-mill proposal was this: 35% X $100,000 X 0.0005 X 87.5% = $15.31, which was a 76% increase over the existing levy.
Ballot Example No. 3
The third ballot example, proposed in November 2003, is for a "replacement and decrease." It is even more deceptive than the first two examples because it appears to provide a tax reduction. Instead, it produced a 267% increase. It reads as follows:
The words "decrease," "portion of an existing levy," and "reduction of 0.02 mill" appear to indicate a decrease in tax. Nothing in the wording on the ballot in any way indicates a tax increase.
The misleading ballot language is explained as follows: Although the ballot does not show it, the existing levy that was to be replaced by this issue is called a 0.52-mill levy. That, unfortunately, refers to the millage that was voted at least as far back as 1976.
The ballot language compares the proposed levy of 0.5 (or 0.50) mill with the old, no-longer-in-effect 0.52 mill. The proposed levy was indeed 0.02 mill less than the old voted millage, but that old millage had nothing to do with one's then-current tax.
The so-called 0.52-mill levy had been renewed a number of times over the years and, consequently, by 2003, the effective millage – the millage that determines one's current tax – had decreased to 0.136028 mill. Therefore, instead of the tax being reduced from 0.52 mill down to 0.50 mill, as the ballot wording seems to imply, it was actually increased from 0.136028 mill to 0.50 mill.
The cost of this replacement levy was this amount: 35% X $100,000 X $0.0005 X 87.5% = $15.31.
Had the proposal been for a renewal levy, the tax would have been this amount: 35% X $100,000 X $0.000136028 X 87.5% = $4.17.
Therefore, the replacement levy cost 3 2/3 times the existing levy – with no clue of the increase on the ballot.
In the case of another election and a similar "replacement and decrease" levy, this writer asked a number of people afterward what their thinking was about the tax issue. Every one of them said that he voted for the levy because he thought he was voting for a tax cut. Although the "replacement and decrease" is the most deceptive tax, none of the replacement levy issues gives any indication of a tax increase in the replacement portion of the ballot.
The reader should realize that although the dollar size of these countywide levies might seem small, each property owner pays on many such levies. Also, a large increase in the percentage of tax on individual properties is reflected in a large increase in revenue for the government because so many property owners are paying on the levies. To be informed, a voter needs to know the true effect of these levies so that he can question why such a large increase in revenue is suddenly necessary.
Ohio law has traditionally given local voters the final say for all property taxes other than those that are levied on the ten inside mills, with a few exceptions. However, that authority is no authority when tax laws are cleverly written to force more taxes on citizens without their vote. Neither is that any authority when laws are written so that voters are misled into voting for the opposite of what they really want or when both the Yes and No choices on a ballot issue might be undesirable, as with replacement levies.
What's the solution to the replacement levy problem? One answer is to repeal the law that authorizes the levies. Following are some reasons:
- The replacement levy is an unnecessary tax. Simple "additional" property levies have always been available – and are still available – to increase revenue for the government.
- The replacement levy is an early product of the legislature's continuing effort to diminish the effects of H.B. 920 and to tie taxes to increases in property values. However, there is no correlation between the rising cost of appropriate government services and increases in property values. Even if there were, trying to make levies match property growth is generally unworkable because, in addition to their property tax levies, government taxing districts get various other kinds of funding from local, state, and federal government sources, as well as private sources. Further, the fact that the "replacement levy and increase" and "replacement levy and decrease" exist is evidence that replacement levies don't always fit with inflation of property values. Also, this writer has observed that the plain "replacement levy" is often used to inch up taxes – just because it is available – when renewals would be appropriate and would have been used previously.
- Replacement levies limit the reasonable authority of citizens – even citizens who know the levies are used to increase taxes – to determine the magnitude of their government. When an existing levy is expiring, replacement levies force voters to choose between 1) voting No to no longer pay even the tax they had been paying, or 2) voting Yes to increase their tax. They are unable to vote simply to continue to pay the same tax they had been paying, as some people prefer. Government officials know that the majority of voters generally would not vote to eliminate a tax; therefore, by using the replacement levy, they use the equivalent of a
new tax with the old – the equivalent of a renewal levy plus an additional levy. In that way, they twist the arms of the voters to increase their property tax. In fact, levy proponents often insist that the voters must pass a levy or the government agency would have to cut services because it would not even have the revenue it had been getting.
Ohio does combine a "renewal" levy and an ordinary "additional" levy into one single vote, and although renewal-plus-additional-levy issues and ballots are straightforward – unlike replacement levies and ballots – they still deny voters a real choice. In this writer's opinion, such combination votes ought to be illegal; renewals and additionals should be in separate votes. Thus, the replacement levy should also be illegal.
A partial solution to the replacement levy problem – one that addresses only the ballot language – would be to change the ballot wording to show the true tax increase. That is, it must show at least the proposed millage and the effective millage of the levy to be replaced and in no way indicate a tax decrease, including in the ballot title (the Revised Code prescribes the wording for the body of the ballot but does not address the title, which is as deceptive for replacement levies as the body and is more noticeable to the voter).
Repealing the replacement levy or changing ballot wording would be done by the Ohio General Assembly – with much encouragement from citizens. Although at least some of the legislators are aware of the deceptive ballot language, any action by them thus far has been inadequate to remedy the problem.
The fact that state lawmakers are very greatly influenced by local officials cannot be stressed too strongly. Local officials have had much to do with getting the legislature to create the types of levies described in this treatise. Replacement levies, in particular, have been a cash cow that local governments will likely lobby to keep, should a legislator introduce a bill to repeal their existence (no bill has been introduced as of this writing). That means that many citizens must be able to understand replacement levies and care enough about fairness that they can and will explain to their representatives and senators the unjustness of these levies and will encourage them to actively support the repeal of the law or change in the law that authorizes the levies. Unfortunately, in addition to possible pressure from local officials, another hindrance to getting the law changed is what this writer has found: some legislators do not understand replacement levies.
Because repeal of the replacement levy law or even a change in ballot language could take months or years – or might not happen at all – informed citizens should also work at the local level by educating other citizens, including their local officials, and supporting only those candidates that pledge not to use replacement levies. Citizens should also vote against all replacement levies, no matter how desirable the intended use of the funds might be. Only if the levies repeatedly fail will local officials stop using them and again make more use of the simple "additional" levy when they truly need funds for appropriate services.
It is the hope of this writer that Ohioans will hold their government accountable – that they will learn about taxation and individual tax issues, that they will educate others, that they will work to eliminate unfair and deceptive taxes such as the replacement levy, and that they will support only those candidates for office who are honest enough to do the same.
Carolyn J. Blow
1767 U.S. 68 South
Xenia, OH 45385-7641