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Homeowners Appeal Property Taxes At Record Pace

Since 2005, the number of Ohioans appealing the assessed value of their homes has nearly tripled. That's largely because market values have plummeted, but county auditors have kept assessed values and property taxes relatively flat. But that's changing. "If you have your Board of Revison complaint notarized, please bring it forward..." That's an employee with the Franklin County Auditor's Office. But this isn't the downtown Columbus headquarters...it's the Evans Senior Center in Grove City. The auditor's office is so busy with appeals, they're going on the road with so-called mobile appeals offices. Minutes after doors opened in Grove City, a line of more than 50 people stretched out the front door into a cafeteria with about a half-dozen employees from the auditor's office. Ed Hendrick was one of the first people to get a seat. He says he bought his Grove City house for $160,000 a year ago. While the market value of the three-bedroom ranch home has already fallen by $10,000, his taxes have stayed the same. And his neighbors are paying less than him. "Doing comparables in the neighborhood, here's a house that bigger than mine, newer than mine, more rooms than mine, and he's being taxes on this amount, and I'm being taxed on that amount. There's a discrepency between this house and mine," Hendrick says. Hendrick is just one of more than 7,000 Franklin county homeowners who've appealed their property taxes this year. With the March 31 deadline approaching, this year's total is expected to easily surpass the previous record. County auditor Clarence Mingo says the trend shines a light on the state of the housing market. "Well it's almost un-American to see someone contesting the value of their home as too high, so this is nothing but a reflection of the recession and a downturn in terms of real estate values," Mingo says. But Mingo admits it stings a little when he pushes people to appeal their taxes; he's an elected official and needs to help homeowners, but getting people a savings on property taxes also means less revenue for tax-funded institutions. Especially schools. "A one percent drop for us would be about $1 million." That's what Southwestern City Schools treasurer Hugh Garside expects to lose this year because of declining property taxes. Garside says some of that will be recovered thanks to a provision which protects districts from dips in the housing market. But it's still losing money and he says there are OTHER effects to declining property values. "What it does to bond rates, and what it does to credit ratings. When investors are looking at purchasing bonds for a school district and they see a decreasing property value in that district, it raises an investor's concerns," Garside says. Gardice says school treasurers around Ohio have similar concerns. Statewide, property tax revenue for districts has dropped by about $200 million since the bursting of the housing bubble. But all that's on Ed Hendrick's mind is his tax bill. As he finishes the paperwork for his appeal, he's pleased and optimistic. "So you know, you just go at it, and see if you can get it reduced."