Butler County residents brace for another huge spike in property values, higher tax bills

Residents will be pushed out of homes, auditor warns
Published: Jul. 5, 2023 at 11:01 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 6, 2023 at 5:15 AM EDT
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WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WXIX) - Butler County property values and taxes are about to go up in a big way again.

“In the last 10 years, property values, residential property values, have increased by 120% while median incomes have only increased by 30%,” Butler County Auditor Nancy Nix said Wednesday.

She recommends residents start saving now.

“I’m seriously worried about Middletown,” she said. “They have the highest tax rates. They are seeing the highest increases.”

This is creating a backlash among residents but so far efforts by local and state leaders to stop or reduce huge tax bills have either failed or are too early in the process to predict if they will succeed.

“Why put the people in the state of Ohio, and specifically Butler County, through this?” said Monroe Vice Mayor Christina McElfresh said. “What is the purpose? Why is this happening and why does it need to happen? What happens to the elderly person that’s on a fixed income that can’t afford this increase? What happens to the person on disability who has no more to give?”

Ohio law requires county auditors to reappraise all properties every six years and reassess in the third calendar year following that reappraisal (called a triennial update).

During the last reappraisal, in 2020, all 165,000 Butler County parcels were reassessed and the state ordered an average 20% increase.

Calling the state’s process flawed, Butler County’s auditor at the time, Roger Reynolds, filed a January 2021 appeal for residential and agricultural properties in West Chester and Fairfield Townships and the cities of Fairfield and Hamilton.

He lost it more than a year later, in September 2022, and then was forced to leave public office two months later due to a felony public corruption-related conviction.

Meanwhile, Butler County’s property tax hikes were put on hold while his appeal was decided so the 2020 and 2021 tax bills had to be recalculated in late 2022 and early 2023.

The adjustments were put on the first half of tax bills mailed out in February, resulting in some residents getting quite a shock. Nearly 49,000 property owners saw tax bill adjustments totaling $6.1 million, the auditor’s office announced earlier this year.

That includes some homeowners who didn’t even own their properties before or during some or all of the appeal waiting period and only just purchased them during the recent record-breaking run that saw mortgage rates plunge to all-time lows and home prices soar to new highs.

Now, looking ahead to tax bills hitting mailboxes in February 2024, Gov. Mike DeWine’s appointed tax commissioner has recommended Butler County increase residential property values by an unprecedented 42%.

Nix, the county’s former treasurer who became the county auditor earlier this year, said she fears this will push some residents from their homes, many of whom already are struggling to pay their property taxes.

Value change recommendations were recently sent to 12 other counties in Ohio and the combined average increase sought was 34%, according to the auditor’s office.

Besides Butler, only two other counties were recommended to increase by 40% or more: Clermont (43) and Knox (40).

The state tax commissioner will send tax rates, which will produce tax bills, but that won’t be ready until January 2024, Nix said.

The large increase is because housing is in short supply and because of the influx in federal spending and high interest rates, she said.

“We’re going to keep fighting, to try and get the lawmakers to make changes,” she said Wednesday.

But so far local state representatives and senators have been unable to change the way the state’s tax commissioner calculates property values.

A budget amendment that would have slashed Butler County’s looming property value increases by nearly half cleared the Senate but then died in the House last week.

“I am worried people will have to sell their homes and move out. I am really worried about senior citizens on a fixed income,” said the senator who initiated the failed budget amendment, Republican George Lang of West Chester.

Ohio’s Legislature is now on its annual summer break until September so nothing will happen for at least the next two months, Lang said.

A House bill similar to Lang’s budget amendment recently was introduced by two lawmakers from Butler and Clermont counties.

It’s not clear, however, if that will make it to the full House and/or Senate floors for votes in the fall or if DeWine will sign it into law if it ever reaches his desk.

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