SALEM, Ohio – The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District says its idea holds water, but some landowners in 18 eastern Ohio counties deny it and say the district’s latest plan is giving them a sinking feeling.
The district has proposed a $12-per-parcel tax on all properties in the watershed district – 8,000 square miles, or about one-fifth of the state – payable beginning in 2007.
That assessment would raise $270 million in 20 years to pay for dam repairs and other projects to protect homes and businesses from flooding, maintain water quality, and keep tourists and business interested in the area.
But farmers and residents question the plan, saying there’s still uncertainty in the district’s budget, definitions, and value of the project.
Testimony. “The conservation district said it owns these waters of the state, so why should I be taxed for their water?” questioned Dwain Gregg at a July meeting of the district board of appraisers.
Gregg said his property near Senecaville in Guernsey County flooded twice within the past year, and medical and fire emergency responders – for whom he already pays taxes – couldn’t get to his home if they tried.
“Your water is what’s impeding us from getting out. Maybe we should be taxing you,” Gregg said.
Doesn’t make it right. Others, like Joseph Carlisle Jr., say they will fight the district’s plan tooth and nail on a matter of principle.
Carlisle, who has lived near Atwood Lake since 1961, watched flood waters fill the valley below his home on Royal Road last winter. He’d never seen that much water there before.
His 200 acres, where he runs a wholesale tree farm, are in two parcels. He would be assessed only about $25 according to the plan, but Carlisle says the dollar figure isn’t the issue.
“The $12 is just a figure to keep your eye off the ball,” Carlisle said.
“They’ve got all the revenues you could ever imagine: cottage rentals, timber, gas and oil. And [district executive director John] Hoopingarner has told me they’ve seen these problems coming for 30, 40 years. What have they done all these years, just gone to these meetings?” Carlisle said.
“The law said they can do [this assessment], but that doesn’t make it right,” he said.
“These projects need done and they say they need $270 million, but they’re not sure yet how they’ll spend the money.”
“I can’t believe we’d give these people control over this much money,” Carlisle said.
Court said OK. The district’s five-member board of directors drafted and approved the assessment plan before presenting it to the conservancy court in June.
The conservancy court, made up of one common pleas court judge from each of the 18 counties primarily affected by the watershed, adopted the proposal.
They set the district on a mission to detail how it would assess landowners.
The district turned to engineering consultant James Rozelle of Cincinnati.
Rozelle, a retired general manager the Miami Conservancy District in southwestern Ohio, called the assessment “absolutely necessary” to protect residents and properties from flooding.
In the Cincinnati and Dayton areas, landowners have been paying an assessment since 1918, according to Brenda Gibson of the Miami district.
The assessment there varies and is based on the depth of flooding on the property during the 1913 flood, Rozelle said.
Rozelle said some residents in the Dayton area pay about $100 a year.
Unfair. Rozelle recommended the district give careful thought to its methods so it would appear fair to everyone in the district.
But residents say a flat tax of $12 per parcel isn’t fair, especially because the term “parcel” is vague.
There are more than 703,000 parcels in the district.
At the district board of appraisal’s latest meeting, officials began to narrow the term’s definition.
The board members said the term will be temporarily defined as one or more adjoining tracts of land with the same owner and same property use code on file with the county auditor.
Auditor’s office. That method might create hardships in county auditors’ offices, where the assessments would be based.
State laws prevent auditors from combining parcels even if they have the same owner and are contiguous, according to engineer Rozelle.
That means the district’s assessment might need extra steps – and extra money –
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