Homeowners, farmers carry school tax load

Homeowners and farmers across the state are paying 70 percent of school property taxes and Washington County is right in line with the pack.

A recent study by economist and school funding analyst Howard Fleeter and reported in the Columbus Dispatch showed that Class I property, homeowners and farmers, went from paying 47.5 percent of the nearly $4.4 billion in property taxes to schools in 1991, to paying 70 percent of the $8.75 billion in 2011.

Washington County homeowners and farmers are paying about 65.9 percent, according to Auditor Bill McFarland, but the numbers vary by school district.

“This is kind of interesting because it demonstrates the diversity we have in Washington County,” said McFarland.

Across the school districts in the county, Frontier Local is the highest on reliance of Class I, at 85.9 percent, while Wolf Creek comes in the lowest at 31.5 percent. For the business side of things, Class II, Frontier comes in the lowest at 5.8 percent and Marietta comes in the highest at 28.2 percent.

As a whole, businesses are paying about 15.4 percent of the tax, while public utilities account for about 20.7 percent.

McFarland said based on his experience and what he’s seen while in office, one school district hasn’t changed a lot due to a lack of business and industry there.

“Getting past the 80 percent threshold in Washington County…I doubt the percentage (in Class I) has varied a lot in Frontier,” McFarland said.

Marietta City Schools Superintendent Harry Fleming said the burden shifting to taxpayers has been unfortunate, especially in the event a levy comes up.

“There’s no doubt it is an added burden on taxpayers, but the school districts don’t have a choice,” said Fleming, adding that the state mandates how the districts can collect money. “There should be less emphasis on local property taxes, but that hasn’t been the case.”

Fleming said the commercial act tax is supposed to help school districts locally, but it’s collected by the state. He added that severance taxes on oil and gas are also supposed to be distributed locally, but the state wants to collect that money and redistribute it across the state.

“It’s not a level playing field,” he said.

There are several culprits blamed for the increase: housing developments and rising farmland values, and also policy changes over the years that have reduced the property taxes paid by Ohio businesses.

Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said rising farmland values could certainly be a factor.

“I know there have been revised appraisals (of farmland) every so many years,” he said. “There was a period under which they weren’t updated. The CAUB (an agricultural appraisal) is an attempt to account for what type of use the land has; a tree farm might have a certain type of appraisal…Those updated values may have an impact on what portion the schools’ revenue is based on.”

The factor McFarland has seen impact the area the most is policy change, including House Bill 66 in 2005.

“If you look at Washington County as a whole and the shift of the tax burden, probably one issue which overrides all the rest is doing away with the tangible personal property (tax) on business,” he said. “The main components (were) machinery, equipment and inventory, and that was a conscious decision made by legislation in Ohio in order to…make Ohio more business friendly, as a place to come and establish a business.”

McFarland said while it is good to have higher quality, high-paying jobs, it helped shuffle the burden toward residential and farming properties.

Chuck Swaney, owner of FOUND in Marietta, said regardless, the money is going where it should.

“My feeling is I hope it’s helping to support our school system,” he said.

Judy Lewis, 74, of Devola, said she never really noticed more taxes going to the schools.

“(When you get what you owe) it doesn’t tell how much more it is than the previous year,” she said. “That was a pretty big jump; maybe we should pay more attention.”

Despite that, Lewis said she’s not upset.

“Actually, I’ve always been happy to support the schools,” she said.

Conversely, Alice Hoon, 53, of the Barlow-Vincent area, said she’s not happy about taking on the extra burden.

“We’re normal people trying to make a living and I feel they’re taking advantage of us,” she said. “I know it never was that much before. I don’t see why it’s had to go up so much.”

Thompson added that homeowners and farmers having the added taxes is concerning.

“Obviously I’m concerned about residential property taxes going up,” he said. “Nobody’s happy to see taxes higher.”

Sylvi Caporale, owner of American Flags and Poles, said one way or another she would be paying taxes to the schools.

“We’re business owners, but we’re also property owners, so we will end up paying either way,” she said. “(Business owners) can pass on savings to the customer base. It’s helpful when the whole general public is able to contribute to the school tax base as well.”