May 11 Senate Hearing
The first hour was spent with the MWCD presenting material we have heard before, in previous meetings. During the last 25 minutes, churches became the topic. It then became clear that there was only one recourse for pastors, clearly concerned on the principle of not having their churches taxed by way of assessment: solve the issue by drafting legislation.
In review, Senator Bill Harris stated that there had been a lot of misinformation and wanted to present forums, such as this, as a "town hall meeting". John Hoopingarner was given the floor to present. He started by touting their success and moved to the fact that the MWCD's infrastructure has been crumbling. He stated that it has been 70 years since there had been any maintenance and rebuild of the system. He then pointed to the heavy rains and flooding in 2005, using a dramatical approach to justify the current plan of assessing taxes. He stated that MWCD is the largest in Ohio, creating 400 jobs, annually.
John then mentioned that their critics have been referring to "taxation without representation" and brought up that pastors believe churches should be exempted, but said the conservancy district has a legitimate right, under law, to assess them. He said that if the district receives less funding than projected, through the current plan of assessment, they will have less to work with.
Senator Harris suggested there needs to be more time to iron out issues with their critics. The MWCD agrees and will ask the conservancy court to delay approval of its plan until late summer or early fall. However, they believe it cannot be delayed any further as it will put their federal funding in jeopardy, even as late as early September 2006.
According to a house member, as far as Stark County is concerned, there will not be a dollar for dollar return because the runoff is running south of the county, mainly. Stark County is only a small piece of the district geographically and it will be the smallest benefactor of projects but it will pay the largest assessment costs since they contribute so much runoff water to the system. $2.9 million will come from Stark county. Akron Canton Airport faces the largest assessment on record ...$29,000. This is because it has a lot of concrete/blacktop footage and roof footage. This is considered in relation to the runoff from the property.
On the other hand, the MWCD Atwood Lodge pays $60,000 in real estate taxes and is the second largest taxpayer in Carroll County.
According to Mr. Hoopingarner, the Army Corps of Engineers and conservancy districts struck an agreement in 1939 and the Army Corps receives $18 million, annually, for dams.
The conservancy district intends to enlarge its media campaign by sending information to every resident in the district.
As far as the map where property is not in the boundaries, but in the gray areas, they do receive a benefit from the district, even though they are not in the boundaries. This brought up the question whether conservancy districts can change their boundaries. The answer was, yes, but it would have to go through a certain process to accomplish this.
The Ohio Revised Code 6101, which is conservancy district law, has been amended over 20 times over its existence.
The following are a few interesting statements on the matter of exemptions.
Senator Bill Harris said that there is a lot of support among the legislature to exempt churches. He also stated that he would be meeting with the MWCD director again next Tuesday or Wednesday to discuss the feedback from today's meeting. However, I have it from a reliable source that he spent the remainder of the day with them.
There are legislators who are considering bills that would exempt churches, schools, and municipalities, etc.
However, we have been told repeatedly that churches are exempt from taxation but not exempt from these kind of assessments.
For the record, there are "special assessments" and "special improvement districts" in the Ohio Revised Code from which churches are exempt. (see 1710.02). This section of code may be just what we need to to construct legislative language.
Rep. Allan Sayre's bill is the main one under consideration at this moment. He currently has eleven bipartisan cosponsors.
Hoopingarner stated, "I don't believe our board can or should grant exemptions but if the state finds the need to grant exemptions we will abide by them."
After the initial meeting was over, time was spent by the contingent of pastors to connect with house members that were in attendance.
House Members that attended the hearing included:
Rep. Allan Sayre (D - District 96)
Rep. Thom Collier (R - District 90)
Rep. William Healey (D - District 52)
Rep. Bob Gibbs (R - District 97)
Rep. Charles Calvert (R - District 69)
Rep. Bill Hartnett (D -District 73 )
Rep. Jennifer Garrison (D - District 93)
Rep. James Aslanides (R - District 94)
Rep. Clyde Evans (R - District 87)
After initial connections to legislators had been made, a discussion started between Mr. Hoopingarner and the entourage of pastors.
The last thing to happen was the meeting by our own contingent outside the hearing room as the pastor team gathered to discuss strategy with Melanie and house members.
In attendance as pastors, were Pastor John Bouquet, Pastor Floyd Stanfill, Pastor Mark Stevenson, Pastor Dan Whisner, in addition to Larry Edwards and Dale Engle. Melanie Elsey was also in attendance.