In light of increased property values as a result of Geauga County’s 2020 triennial update, Auditor Charles Walder is calling upon taxing authorities to reduce taxes to ease the reappraisal burden on residents affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Counties complete reappraisals every six years with a required triennial update three years later that the Ohio Department of Taxation must approve. The triennial update looks at property sales from the past three years to determine the change in value.

During the commissioners’ Feb. 2 meeting, Mr. Walder said taxing authorities, like schools, libraries and municipalities, should re-evaluate their needs this year and potentially reduce taxes temporarily. Townships, for example, have the authority to delay collections on levies if they so choose, he said.

“I’m arguing that every entity needs to self-evaluate and say, ‘Do we really need to do this right now?’ I sent an email out to every taxing authority [Feb. 1] and basically asked them, please look at what you’re doing, and if you can postpone it for a year, do it, and give that money back to the taxpayers,” he told the commissioners.

Mr. Walder said he also reached out to the Ohio Department of Taxation about potentially providing mid-year tax relief to residents. As of last week, department officials referred the question to their legal counsel for consideration.

In addition to what taxing authorities can do to help, Mr. Walder also addressed several questions that came from the previous meeting regarding the reappraisals in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, including why the reappraisal continued at all, why there was an increase despite the economic impact of the pandemic, why there was a lack of notification to residents compared to previous years and why relief for late payments can’t be granted.

“The reason why we did the real property update is because by law I was required to do it,” Mr. Walders said.

“Unfortunately, the state legislature, when they passed the COVID-relief acts, did not consider anything to do with triennial updates or reappraisals into their equations,” he added. “They did not give any leeway to county auditors. They just said you’ve got to keep doing what you’re doing.”

As for why property values increased despite the pandemic’s impact on the residents and the economy, Mr. Walder explained that the real estate market has maintained high demand throughout the health crisis.

“Even though the pandemic hit Geauga County, it really didn’t change how the methodology was used to do [the] triennial update. It was based on sales,” Mr. Walder said. “Right, wrong or indifferent, the housing market has not really been adversely affected by the pandemic.”

“If anything, it’s gone the other way,” Commissioner Tim Lennon commented.

“The bottom line is, it’s a supply and demand market,” Mr. Walder added. “And right now, there is no inventory, and therefore what does hit the market goes at a much higher price than you would normally anticipate. That does drive up everyone’s value.”

Mr. Walder said the county did not notify residents via mailers as they have in the past because they didn’t have enough time.

“We received our notice to start the triennial three months later than normal,” Mr. Walder said, adding that the state did not adjust the due date for the completion of the update. “So if you change the starting point and you don’t change the ending point, something’s got to give between those two things.”

Sending the change letters to residents is a six-week process, Mr. Walder said. “We send out our notice, we then have informal hearings, we then make adjustments, and then we resend the letter again.”

Mr. Walder said the county received notice from the state for the triennial update on July 16. During the last triennial update in 2014, he said, the county received notice on April 7.

“On Aug. 22, in 2014, is when we [sent] the change letters out,” he explained. “In 2014, the tax bills were sent to the printer on Jan. 15, and if you look at where it occurred last [month], we did it on the 14th,” he said. The county ultimately decided it could not send the change letters on Oct. 30 last year.

He added that the county is prevented by law to notify residents of value changes until the state approves their abstract assessment, meaning they couldn’t post anything on their website or in the paper until they received state approval.

He said the state’s target average for Geauga was an 11-percent increase on residential property. “We actually calculated 10.13 [percent].”

Mr. Walder said the county was fortunate in that the state accepted this percentage, noting that had it been denied, they would have been required to start the entire process over. As soon as their abstract was approved on Dec. 3, he said the county published notice in the newspaper.

“Had they not accepted that, we would probably not have gotten our tax triennial done in time.”

As for relief for late payments, Chief Deputy Caroline Mansfield of the Geauga County Treasurer’s Office said there is no extension, and late payments are generally met with a 10-percent penalty.

She explained that real estate taxes are due the second Wednesday of February for the first half of each year (Feb. 10 this year). Treasurer Christopher Hitchcock can accept payments after the due date as long as they are postmarked before the deadline.

She added, however, that a taxpayer can fill out a remission of penalty through the treasurer’s office if they have a valid reason for a late payment, noting COVID-19 is a valid reason. “If you’ve never been late in three years, we will grant it out in remission and then you won’t have to pay the penalty,” she said.

Residents may also appeal their appraisal with the county Board of Revisions, according to the auditor’s office.

Forms, which can be obtained at auditor.co.geauga.oh.us/appraisal/board-of-revisions or by calling 440-279-1601, must be filed after Jan. 1 and before March 31 to appeal a 2020 value.

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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