The Liberty Township Board of Trustees, dissatisfied with the Delaware County Budget Commission’s (DCBC) determination on the township reducing the tax rate of its fire levy from 5.6 mills to 3.6 mills, voted 2-1 Tuesday afternoon to begin the process of appealing the decision to the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals (OBTA).
After roll call, Trustee Melanie Leneghan immediately moved to approve the meeting agenda, minus two of the resolutions.
The first would have rescinded Resolution 19-0916, which directed the fiscal officer to certify a copy of the resolution approved Sept. 16 to the Delaware County Auditor to permanently reduce the township’s fire levy to 3.6 mills, with collection starting Jan. 1, 2020.
The second would have accepted the millage rates as determined by the DCBC on Sept. 4 at 5.6 mills.
Both Leneghan and Trustee Michael Gemperline voted to remove the resolutions, while Trustee Shyra Eichhorn voted against the removals.
The first of the remaining resolutions authorized an expenditure, not to exceed $25,000, payable to Reminger and Reminger, LLC for private legal counsel to assist the board in issues of “taxation, levy rollback, and mandamus.”
The next authorized “filing of an appeal of the determination of the Delaware County Budget Commission” with the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals as directed in Ohio Revised Code 5705.37.
“There is nothing in here that if the appeal fails, on whether it would not jump back to 5.6 (mills) or actually jump to zero,” Eichhorn said. “We should be including something that says if the appeal does not work, then it goes back to 5.6.
“So, we’re going to take the possible risk of going from rolling it back to 3.6 (mills) to dropping it to zero. If there was ever possibly a question to defund (the levy), that answered it,” she added.
Later in a phone interview, Eichhorn she had asked the question of “what happens if the appeal fails to both the county auditor’s office and the prosecutor’s office. She said neither office has an answer to the question as of yet.
“I’m assuming that it will stay at 5.6 mills,” she said. “However, I not about taking the gamble.”
Eichhorn said if it does go to zero, the township will have to use up any reserves from the fire levy and then start using the general funds, which will impact roads, parks, and everything else.
Outside of the township hall after the meeting, Bryan Newell, candidate for Liberty Township trustee, said he didn’t know what to say about what went on in the meeting.
“Residents continue to not have a voice at these meetings,” he said. “They continually push these special meetings so the community doesn’t have a voice. It’s on purpose. What does it hurt to wait until next week? Other than you just don’t want people to speak up. To me, that is the biggest disgrace to the whole thing.”
Newell pointed out that the township will once again be spending taxpayer money for legal fees “because we can’t seem to follow the law.”
“For fiscal conservatives, they spend a lot of money on attorneys and legal fees,” he said.
Chip Vance, owner of Auto Assets, Powell, asked the other residents gathered outside of the township hall one question: “What just happened?” He said his take on the meeting was that two trustees voted together “to spend money with an attorney to try to get their way.”
According to Delaware County Auditor George Kaitsa, the Delaware County Budget Commission approved the 5.6 mills before the trustees submitted their request for the reduction. He said the interpretation of the law from the Ohio Department of Taxation is the township needs to file an appeal.
Kaitsa said he would be speaking with the OBTA to determine the next steps in the process.