During a special meeting held Oct. 1, the Liberty Township Board of Trustees voted 2-1 to approve filing an appeal with the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals (OBTA) to overturn the Delaware County Budget Commission’s (DCBC) certification retaining the township’s 5.6-mill fire levy.
On Thursday, Kathleen Crowley, OBTA executive director, said, “Currently, there are no appeals filed with the OBTA from Liberty Township in Delaware County.” She mentioned that the appeal had to be filed within 30 days of the DCBC’s certification of the levy.
The township’s fire levy was certified by the DCBC on Sept. 4.
Township Administrator Michael Schuiling said the trustees did everything they were advised to do. He said according to the Ohio Revised Code, it was believed the appeal had to be filed within 30 days of receiving notice of the DCBC certification on Sept. 6.
“It had to be prior to that,” he said. “Any action they would have taken was outside the window of opportunity to make it happen.”
However, Trustee Shyra Eichhorn said the township administrator told her that “technically, the appeal was supposed to be filed by midnight on Sunday going into Monday, but because it was a weekend, we had until Monday at midnight going into Tuesday to file.”
Liberty Township trustees met in a public session on Oct. 7. No mention was made on the appeal not being filed before the deadline.
Trustee Melanie Leneghan stated the board isn’t dropping the legal action but only waiting on the county auditor’s office so the township can move forward on the appeal.
“We have nothing to appeal,” she said. “We are the taxing authority, we passed our resolution, the ball is now in George’s (Kaitsa, Delaware County Auditor) court.”
At the Oct. 1 meeting, Eichhorn asked that two resolutions be placed on the agenda. The first would have rescinded Resolution 19-0916, directing the fiscal officer to certify a copy of the resolution approved Sept. 16 to the county auditor permanently reducing the 5.6 mill-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 immediately moved to approve the meeting agenda, minus two of the resolutions.
Eichhorn said she requested the resolutions with the specific language so if the appeal was denied, the collection rate would remain at 5.6 mills. She also fears if the appeal is denied, the levy will fall to zero mills, leaving the fire department without funds.
“I’m assuming that it will stay at 5.6 mills,” she stated in a prior report. “However, I’m not about taking the gamble.”
Kaitsa told The Gazette Thursday that the scenario of the levy dropping to zero mills won’t happen. Instead, it would stay at 5.6 mills. He also said he believed the trustees would need to approve a resolution accepting the rate.
“We’re working on getting guidance on the next steps to take,” he said. “The fire department will not be without funds.”
During the Oct. 1 meeting, by majority vote, trustees also 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.”
Bryan Newell, candidate for Liberty Township trustee, on Oct. 1, pointed out that the township will be spending taxpayer money for legal fees.
“For fiscal conservatives, they spend a lot of money on attorneys and legal fees,” he said.
Melanie Farkas, a candidate for Liberty Township trustee, said she finds it frustrating that trustees are not dropping the appeal.
“They should get back to the business of the township,” she said. “The people are sick of the drama. The Ohio Board of Tax Appeals said it’s over.”