When local governments ask for property tax increases, they point out how the millage of current levies are lowered so that despite increases in property values or population, they cannot collect more money. While Ohio law is designed to do that in some cases, the fact remains that local governments are indeed collecting more property taxes and property taxes have increased greater than local household incomes and the consumer price index.
A Tribune Chronicle report two weeks ago determined that over the past 20 years, property taxes in Trumbull County increased 71 percent whereas the consumer price index over the same period went up 57 percent and median household income in the county increased 42 percent.
The Tribune randomly selected one home in each of Trumbull's 20 school districts. In some cases, the property tax bills for those specific homes increased more than 100 percent. In other cases, because of bankruptcies, foreclosures and other catastrophic events, the tax bills actually declined. But the overall average is a 71 percent increase in how much property taxes are paid for those 20 homes.
The Tribune report provided lots of other interesting data for property owners. Here are some examples:
-- School districts with the highest tax rates, in order, are McDonald, Warren, Hubbard, LaBrae and Niles. Ironically, McDonald recently emerged from state fiscal emergency and Niles is about to enter state fiscal emergency. High taxes do not lead to solvent budgets.
-- Townships with the highest tax rates, in order, are Liberty, Bazetta, Brookfield, Hubbard and Kinsman. Ironically, Liberty (with a tax rate a whopping 39 percent higher than No. 2 Bazetta) is in financial distress and Bazetta, Brookfield and Hubbard townships all recently asked for tax increases. High taxes do not lead to solvent budgets.
-- School districts with the lowest tax rates, in order, are Newton Falls, Badger, Champion, Lordstown and Howland. Ironically, all are consistently among the best districts on the annual state report card. Schools do not need high taxes to produce quality students.
-- Townships with the lowest tax rates, in order, are: Newton, Hartford, Southington, Mecca and Vernon. No surprises here. All of these communities have little commercial development, which drives the cost for police, fire and road service. Unlike municipalities, townships cannot collect income taxes from the workers and business owners who use those services the most.
But back to our original point. Taxing authorities are fond of pointing out that when property values increase, the tax rate is adjusted downward so the government cannot collect more money. Likewise, they are quick to point out that when population and thus the number of taxpayers increases, again the tax rate is adjusted downward to prevent the collection of more money.
But this applies only to voted-on levies. Each township and school district has a minimum, unvoted millage that does not change. Therefore, when property values go up, the amount of taxes each property owner pays goes up, and when more people and businesses move into the community, the school district and township does indeed collect more revenue.
The law that protects voted-on levies from costing more during inflation has the reverse effect during deflation. If property values fall or the number of taxpayers drops, everybody who remains must pay more because the school district and township cannot collect less.
These are reasons why a home on the 5800 block of Hoagland Blackstub Road in Mecca saw its tax rate increase 13.4 percent from 1991 to 2011, but the actual taxes paid increased 225 percent.
The Tribune's March 25 report is worth saving as a reference guide the next time a levy appears on the ballot. The tax rate is one race to the top that you don't want to win.