Judges find in favor of ODNR

NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio — Judges of the Fifth District Court of Appeals have ruled that land owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources cannot be assessed by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District.

The judges reversed a decision of the lower court that holds jurisdiction over the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District and had earlier permitted assessments on property owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Background

The conservancy district proposed landowner assessments in 2005 to pay for maintenance and improvements in its 18-county area. Public outcry delayed implementation of the assessment, which was set to begin Jan. 1, 2008, until the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation that stalled the start date.

Now, the earliest assessments could be collected in 2009.

If implemented, the assessment is expected to generate $210 million over 20 years. The money would go toward flood reduction, access, water quality, water supply, tourism spending impacts, land preservation, environmental quality and construction impact.

Opponents of the assessment have said it is a tax and the district doesn’t have a detailed plan for how it will be spent.

How much

Most landowners in the MWCD would pay $12 per year for the assessment, but the Ohio Department of Natural Resources would have paid about $39,000 per year for the land it owns in various counties in the watershed.

James Pringle, legal counsel to the district, said the MWCD board of directors will review the court’s ruling and make a decision on any further action.

Similar cases

Oral arguments in five other consolidated cases also were held in August before the appeals court and decisions are pending in those cases. The five appeals cases are for attorney and property owner David Blackwell and property owners, Joseph Carlisle Jr., the Dean Levengood Revocable Trust, Scott Levengood and Anthony Zadra. Blackwell, the Levengoods and Zadra own property in Tuscarawas County and Carlisle is a property owner in Carroll County.

In August, judges of the appeals court dismissed a case that claimed the Conservancy Court — the common pleas court that holds jurisdiction over the MWCD — violated the state’s open meetings law.

Arguments in another related case, filed by the Tripodi Family Trust for property located in Tuscarawas County, were held earlier this summer and a decision also is pending in that case.

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