Watershed fee delayed at least a year


SALEM, Ohio – The collection of a proposed assessment fee in the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District
will have to wait.
The assessment, which was scheduled to begin in 2007, won’t be collected until at least 2008, according to John Hoopingarner, Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District executive director.
The assessment fee is expected to generate $270 million over the next 20 years and the funds will go toward maintenance projects in the district.
Exceptions. The delay has been caused by about 5,000 exceptions filed in response to the Conservancy Appraisal Record, a document outlining the details and specific amounts of the assessment.
The exceptions gave landowners a chance to address things like incorrect information in the appraisal record.
Darrin Lautenschleger, the district’s public information officer, said the district wasn’t sure how many exceptions to expect when it filed the Conservancy Appraisal Record.
And even though the collection has been delayed due to the volume of exceptions, the pause will have little impact other than simply pushing the start date back a year.
“Instead of beginning in 2007, it’ll begin in 2008,” he said.
Hearings. Each exceptor has the right to a hearing and while the district has settled more than 1,000 cases through written agreements, the hearing process won’t be finished in time to begin collecting in 2007.
Hoopingarner said the district will likely settle more than 1,500 exceptions without a hearing and the remainder will be resolved by the conservancy court.
The hearings are expected to begin soon and wrap up by the end of the year, but they will extend past the Sept. 1 deadline that would allow collection to begin next year.
Watershed resident Elaine Grissom of Quaker City is glad to see the assessment proceeding halted. She said the break will give residents and public officials a chance to look more thoroughly at the district’s capability in completing the projects, whether the projects will work and how much area residents will benefit.
“I see it as a stopping point to look at what they proposed,” she said.
Grissom also hopes the delay will give residents time to find out specifically what the district will do with the funds, something she said has never been clear.
Parcels. The assessment fee is calculated based on land use. Residential and agricultural property will be assessed $12 per parcel.
A parcel is defined as “one or more adjoining tracts of land with the same property use code and the same owner of record, as determined by the county auditor’s records. Such parcels may be divided by public or private roads or streams and still be considered one parcel.”
Commercial and other property will be assessed individually using a formula approved by the conservancy court.
There are approximately 750,000 parcels in the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District’s 18-county jurisdiction.
The future. Despite the delay in collecting the fee, Lautenschleger said the district plans to begin some projects in 2007 through partnering with other agencies and cost-share programs.
According to Hoopingarner, the additional time will allow the district to update and improve the Conservancy Appraisal Record. He said the district wants the record to be as accurate as possible before it seeks final approval.
Although the deadline has passed for filing exceptions, Lautenschleger said landowners should still contact the conservancy district if they find incorrect information in the appraisal record.
During the first three years of the plan, information will be corrected at no cost to property owners, including reimbursement of overpaid fees.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)


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