Auditor Says County Wrong on Jail Tax Figures

In their rush to pass a sales tax proposal before this week’s deadline to qualify for the November ballot, the Hamilton County Commissioners miscalculated figures and overstated the savings for property owners, according to the county auditor.

Auditor Dusty Rhodes sent a memo Wednesday to commissioners chastising them for releasing inaccurate data about property tax reductions. Commissioners and their administrator, Patrick Thompson, should send any calculations to the auditor’s office for vetting before they are released to avoid such errors in the future, Rhodes said.

Meanwhile, an anti-tax group still hasn’t taken a public stance on the proposed sales tax increase. One of the group’s leaders, who also serves as an unofficial campaign advisor to the county commissioner who crafted the sale tax hike, previously said he had carefully reviewed all the calculations.

County commissioners Monday unanimously approved a proposal to build a new jail that asks voters to consider a quarter-cent sales tax hike for 10 years, with a property-tax rollback in place for the first three years. If approved by voters, the increase would raise $325 million over a decade; $291 million would be used to build and finance the jail, with the remainder used to reduce property taxes.

The proposal was a compromise between commissioners Phil Heimlich and Pat DeWine, both Republicans. Commissioner Todd Portune, a Democrat, also voted for the proposal but said a more fiscally responsible plan could have been crafted with more time. Heimlich has made building a new jail the central issue in his re-election campaign.

Commissioners had said that the owner of a house valued at $100,000 would save a total of $49.59 over the three years of the rollback, from 2007-09. In fact, the owner would save less, just $44.83, Rhodes said.

Also, commissioners had said that the owner of a house valued at $173,742 — the average home value in Hamilton County — would save $86.29 over the three-year period. The actual savings would be $77.90, Rhodes said.

Even those numbers cannot be guaranteed because the rollback’s last year, 2009, is when the auditor’s office re-evaluates county property values, Rhodes added.

The auditor’s office is more aware of the nuances under Ohio law that affects property tax rollbacks, Rhodes said. His memo says, “It is this office’s independence which provides the credibility when we do the calculations and it is our job — nobody else’s. I find it troubling that we were not asked for an accurate calculation. In the future, please advise your staff to do so and instruct them not to attempt to provide their own numbers on the spur of the moment.”

Regardless of the rollback, calculations show that each county household would pay an additional $154.62 in sales tax payments during the three-year period, outpacing the savings for most property owners, except for those that are more affluent or own large commercial properties.

Attorney Christopher Finney, a Heimlich advisor and a leader of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, had vouched for the county’s figures in an interview Monday. The sales tax hike constituted a tax shift — instead of a tax increase — because of other cuts in county spending during Heimlich’s term, he said.

“I went through the numbers very carefully before it was announced,” Finney said. “It gives us a way to build a jail without increasing the net tax burden on the taxpayers of Hamilton County.”

— Kevin Osborne

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2 Comments on “Auditor Says County Wrong on Jail Tax Figures”

  1. Played4Chumps Says:

    Oh, I see. Phil Heimlich’s attorney and business partner, Chris Finney, is also the self-appointed & Heimlich-appointed de facto county auditor. How nice that Chris gets to write tax policy to ease the burden on his $865,000 palace and his other real estate holdings. The rest of us proles just have to subsidize Finney’s gracious lifestyle when we pay that extra sales tax on TP at Wal-Mart.

  2. Cliftonite Says:

    Shame on all the County Commissioners for not collaborating with the County Auditor’s office. The commissioners seem to be bent on speed to the finish line rather than be focused on finding the best solution. Too bad for them….I look forward to voting soon to get some new faces.

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