LANCASTER – Walnut Township and Millersport area property owners are experiencing shocker shock as they open their property tax bills.
Some may have expected flat or declining property tax bills, reflecting the drop in property values caused by low water levels in Buckeye Lake and the uncertainty about the design and impact of the new dam.
Deputy Fairfield County Auditor Scott Zody explained why property taxes increased for Millersport and Walnut Township residents who live within the Walnut Township School District. In August, he said, school district voters approved a seven mill emergency school levy and in November voters county-wide approved a 1.85 mill levy for the Fairfield County Board of Developmental Disabilities. The total is 8.85 mills of new taxes to be applied to 2015 taxes, payable in 2016.
Zody said the Buckeye Lake dam project is unlikely to cause a decrease in property values for tax purposes. He said property values are determined each year as of the tax lien date, January 1. Since the Buckeye Lake water level restrictions were announced in mid-March last year, any assessment appeals based on that decision would quickly be denied solely on the basis of timing. It’s also important, Zody said, to remember that property taxes are paid one year in arrears (or behind), so the tax bills received in 2016 are for 2015 taxes.
An assessment appeal filed this time next year would at least have to be decided on the basis of the evidence presented.
Zody said the dam project is unlikely to affect property taxes because the project is temporary and short term. He explained market forces and property use in a given area over time primarily drive increases or decreases in property values. This is why real property is appraised every six years and reviewed every third year in between. This process helps prevent short-term swings in value and provides some stability and confidence relative to property values and resulting taxes.
“The auditor cannot predict what future values or taxes might be, which is why we have to rely on current factual data to determine values and rates, and provide the taxpayers with reliable information,” Zody said.
Describing the basics, Zody said the six-year appraisal and the three-year review in between are called the sexennial and triennial reviews, respectively, which determine the appraised value of the property as a whole; the next triennial review is this year. The lands and buildings are then taxed at 35 percent of their appraised value, which is called the assessed, or taxable, value.
Zody said taxes are calculated based on the assessed value and the amount of voted and unvoted, or inside, millage. All real property in Fairfield County is subject to the inside millage (inside millage simply exists; the public never votes for or against it), which is limited to 10 mills per taxing district. Zody said the inside millage is applied to properties based on the Ohio Constitution and Ohio law and is the only millage allowed to increase a property’s taxes based on any inflationary increase in the property’s value. The voters of a political subdivision, such as a county, municipality, or school district, must approve all other millage.
Zody explained a “mill” is a measure of value for taxing purposes. One mill of property tax translates to $35 of tax per $100,000 of property value. For example, a one-mill levy would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $70 per year.
In Walnut Township’s case, Zody said, a school district resident subject to the seven-mills emergency school levy and the 1.85-mills developmental disabilities levy would experience a $309.75 increase in personal property taxes per $100,000 of home value. This total includes $245 for the school district and $64.75 developmental disabilities levy.
Zody said there are methods, however, for Walnut Township homeowners to lower their taxes. If the home is a primary residence, the owner may qualify for the Owner Occupancy Credit, which is a property tax reduction. He urged homeowners to check their tax bills or contact the Fairfield County Auditor’s Office to see if they are currently receiving this credit.
Another possible reduction is the Homestead Exemption for homeowners 65 and older or are 100 percent disabled through a qualifying agency who meet certain income limitations and the Disabled Veterans Homestead Reduction. Zody said the auditor’s office has more information on this exemption as well, and applications are available through the auditor’s website at www. co.fairfield.oh.us/auditor/.