Ohio budget countdown concerns farm groups

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The Ohio Statehouse.
The Ohio Statehouse.

SALEM, Ohio — The Ohio legislature gave final approval of the state operating budget June 28, and the 4,700-page document is now in the governor’s hands to sign or veto.

A new budget must be signed by July 1, and farm and conservation groups are watching closely, as they await final determination on issues that will affect their funding.

Farmland taxes

A big issue in the budget are reforms to the state’s Current Agricultural Use Value formula, or CAUV.

For the past three years, farmers and farm groups have argued for a formula that is more closely tied to agricultural value, and that awards conservation efforts.

The CAUV reforms in the budget bill would remove certain non-agricultural factors, such as equity buildup in the capitalization rate formula, and would tax qualifying conservation ground at the lowest taxable value for soil types.

The reforms are seen as a way of bringing relief to farmers who have seen farmland property taxes increase by more than 300 percent in recent years, all at the same time that farm income has undergone significant decline.

Other issues being watched are funding for county-level services like Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and OSU Extension.

Harold Neuenschwander, president of the Ohio Federation for Soil and Water Conservation Districts, said the federation sought an increase in funding from the state, but will most likely be dealt a $100,000 reduction.

He said the state matches less than 70 percent of what local soil and water conservation districts spend, and the state match continues to decrease.

“While many of our districts were already struggling, they’re obviously going to struggle more,” he said.

Local governments

Suzanne Dulaney, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, said she was pleased that the budget conference committee included a provision to continue providing about $207 million a year to local governments — funding which would come from a franchise fee for services provided through the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The same revenue had previously come from a sales tax imposed on Medicaid Managed Care Organizations, but that tax expires the end of June.

Dulaney said the Legislature’s budget includes a six-year plan to provide about the same compensation as the counties had been receiving.

“We were thrilled because the conference report contained a plan to seek an additional franchise fee that helps counties, in addition to the state,” she said. “We’re very pleased and happy with what the Legislature did.

But Dulaney is holding her breath, because Gov. John Kasich’s executive budget proposal also includes a sales tax replacement plan  — although she said it would only provide counties and transit authorities a one-time allocation.

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