NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio — The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District will not appeal a court decision that excludes the Ohio Department of Natural Resources from paying a maintenance assessment levied by the district.
Judges of the Fifth District Court of Appeals issued a ruling in September that reversed the decision of a lower court to permit assessments on property owned by the department.
Darrin Lautenschleger, Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District public affairs manager, said the state law that deals with conservancy district maintenance assessments is a gray area, but the new ruling gives MWCD clarification on how to proceed.
Based on information in the Ohio Revised Code, the appeals court ruled that properties owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources — a department of state government — are not subject to assessments levied by a conservancy district. The district’s legal counsel has further interpreted the court’s ruling to apply to all properties owned by the state of Ohio.
The MWCD estimates the state would have paid about $109,000 per year in assessments to the district for the land it owns in the various counties in the watershed. Lautenschleger said the assessments on other property owners will not be increased as a result of the court decision.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is one of eight property owners that filed appeals to their projected assessments to be levied by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. Nearly 500,000 parcels of property in the watershed — an 18-county region that drains to the Muskingum River — are subject to the assessment, which is scheduled to begin next year.
The district projects that around $10.3 million will be generated by the assessment each year. The money will be used for flood reduction, access, water quality, water supply, tourism spending impacts, land preservation, environmental quality and construction impact. According to the district, most property owners will pay $12 per year.
The legal issues applicable to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources appeal do not apply to the other pending appeals, Lautenschleger said. The state is not a party to any of the other appeals, which include attorney and property owner David L. Blackwell, property owners Joseph R. Carlisle Jr., the Dean F. Levengood Revocable Trust, Scott Levengood and Anthony B. Zadra. Blackwell, the Levengoods and Zadra own property in Tuscarawas County and Carlisle is a property owner in Carroll County.
A decision is pending in a related case, filed by the Tripodi Family Trust, for property in Tuscarawas County.
Another appeal related to the MWCD assessment was dismissed in August.