Posted: 12:00 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012

Snapshot of property taxes by county

By Joanne Huist Smith and Sharahn D. Boykin

Staff Writers

Living in a bedroom community with little industry, reliable services and good schools is going to cost you, but not necessarily because of a big house or a sizeable mortgage. You’ll pay for it with each property tax bill.

The Dayton Daily News — working with county auditors from Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties — spent two months collecting and analyzing residential property tax data from 99 communities.

What evolved is a picture of the way residential property taxes compare in communities across the region. The newspaper used property tax statistics — calculated by each county’s auditor — to examine tax bills in two ways: property taxes charged in each city, township and village and the percentage of home value that is paid in property taxes annually in each of the jurisdictions.

All results are presented as median, or mid point, values.

“I think this is a much fairer way to present the data,” Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith said. “It’s a good way to adjust for wide variations in property values.”

Three factors influenced where communities ranked in this analysis: whether residents pay an income tax for city services or schools, the diversity of the tax base (whether there a mix of commercial, industrial and residential properties) and the amount of property tax millage voted to fund local schools.

In Ohio, the median value of an owner-occupied home was $136,400, according to 2006-2010 Census data. Nationally, the median value was $188,400.

What the Dayton Daily News analysis shows is that Sugarcreek Twp. in Greene County had the most expensive median value home in the region — $286,079 — and, the highest median tax bill, more than $6,211 a year.

The sizes of the homes, the lots and location are key factors when looking at Sugarcreek taxes, said Barry Tiffany, the township administrator. The community is close to Interstate-675, but far enough away from the interchange to have a rural feel.

“We’ve done a good job of maintaining that rural character,” Tiffany said. “(Residents) like what they see on their way to and from their houses — parks and open spaces. The school district is key. It’s a highly rated school system.”

Despite the high values in Sugarcreek Twp., the community of 8,041 residents didn’t glean the top spot on the list of taxes charged as a percentage of home value. That distinction fell to the city of Union in Montgomery County.

“The big picture is that the total tax base for property taxes and income taxes in Union is a lot smaller than the communities we’re being compared to,” Denise Winemiller, Union’s assistant city manger said.

The property tax is the predominant method school districts use to raise local revenue to fund education in Ohio. Cities, with voter approval, also may enact an income tax to pay for services such as police and fire protection. School districts can do the same. Ohio townships don’t have that authority, so they often rely on property taxes to pay for services.

The Dayton Daily News ranking was modeled after a national study by the Tax Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan tax research organization based in Washington, D.C.

“In general, local government is going to go where the money is,” Nicholas Kasprak, an analyst for the Tax Foundation said. “Communities with low home values may look to an income tax to fund services.”

Montgomery County

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Median home values in the city of Oakwood and Washington Twp. were the highest in Montgomery County — so are their tax bills. But neither top the Montgomery County’s Auditor’s ranking of municipalities based on residential property taxes charged as a percentage of home value.

Paying for amenities that can entice house hunters to buy in Union — homes in a bedroom community with just 2,662 households, reliable city services and excellent schools — pushed the community in northwestern Montgomery County to the No. 1 spot on the list.

With little industry in Union to absorb some of the property tax burden, residential property owners pay for schools, city services and other countywide levies. The median-value home in Union was $89,650 in 2011 and the median property tax bill was $2,407.76, or 2.69 percent of the value.

“Our tax base is significantly lower than other cities in the area,” Winemiller said.

The tax base is the value of all taxable real estate in a community. In Union, the total tax base for 2011/12 was $103 million, compared to $255.8 million in 6th ranked Clayton and $260.5 million in nearby Englewood, which ranked 11th on the list of 31 jurisdictions in Montgomery County.

“Our city’s tax millage may be greater than these jurisdictions but our property tax revenue collections are lower than Englewood’s and Clayton’s and only slightly greater than Oakwood’s,” Winemiller said.

“We’re trying to build our industrial tax base,” she said, adding the city is running water and sewer lines to the 550-acre Global Industrial Airpark at Dog Leg and Old Springfield roads.

“We’re trying to market that for future industrial expansion. If we can attract industrial businesses there, we can reduce the property tax rates for the community,” Winemiller said.

There are some taxes that all Montgomery County property owners pay including 3.2 mills for Sinclair Community College, 1.8 mills for FiveRivers MetroParks, 13.24 mills for two human service levies and 1 mill to support developmental disability services.

Local property tax rates always are computed in mills. One mill costs the property owner $1 for every $1,000 of assessed valuation each year.

The county also has three library systems with voter approved levies, 1.75 mills for Dayton Metro, 1.44 mills for Wright Memorial Library in Oakwood and 2.7 mills for the Washington Twp.-Centerville Library.

Some jurisdictions, such as Kettering, Huber Heights and Carlisle cross county lines, so they appear on more than one list with different values. Taxing districts — like school districts and counties — within each municipality have different voted levies, so property tax bills won’t be the same. For example, residents of Carlisle in Montogmery County pay property taxes on two human services levies. Those who live on the Warren County side of Carlisle don’t.

County Auditor Karl Keith said voter-approved funding for Northmont City Schools pushed Union to the top of the list.

“Taxes for libraries, Sinclair and human services are applied across the county,” Keith said. “The big difference (in Union) is the amount of school levies they are paying and how that compares to other communities.”

Three communities within the Northmont School District — Union, Phillipsburg and Clayton — ranked in the top six on Montgomery County’s list of jurisdictions with the actual tax rate of 75.95 voted mills for schools.

An advantage for Union residents, the city’s 1 percent municipal income tax is one of the lowest in Montgomery County.

The city of Oakwood had the highest median home value in the county at $195,175 and ranked second on the list of property taxes charged as a percentage of home value. In the community of about 9,200 residents, the median property tax charged was $5,145.07 per year, including a gross tax rate for city schools of 122.7 mills.

City Manager Nobert Klopsch said that, like Union, Oakwood’s small industrial tax base means the burden to pay for city services and schools largely falls to property owners.

“If you look at all the bedroom communities in Ohio, you’ll find the same thing. The vast majority of taxes are paid by residential property owners, mostly with single family homes,” Klopsch said.

Of Oakwood’s $320 million total real estate value, just $15.8 million comes from commercial businesses, Klopsch said.

Despite the level of property taxes, Oakwood’s population has remained stable. The city lost just 13 residents between the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census.

“Our citizens still believe — even though property taxes have gone up — they’re getting value for those dollars,” Klopsch said.

Nine of the 10 jurisdictions at the bottom of the Montgomery County ranking, paying the lowest percentage of their home value in property taxes, are located within school districts that have issues on the November ballot.

Four of those communities — Germantown, Farmersville along with German and Jackson townships — are within the Valley View Local School District, which is asking voters to approval an additional 6.97 mills for schools in November. Valley View has the second lowest actual tax rate for schools in the county at 32.36 mills.

Greene County

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Median home values in Sugarcreek and Beavercreek townships were the highest in Greene County. Residents in those communities also got the heftiest tax bills.

But, it was suburan Bellbrook, with nearly 7,000 residents, that topped the Greene County list of residential property taxes charged as a percentage of home value. The city’s downtown has popular haunts like McIntosh’s Pub n’ Grub, the Blueberry Cafe and the Dairy Shed but there is limited other industry there. Bellbrook homeowners, as in Union and Oakwood, shoulder the cost for city services and schools.

“We rarely ask for a tax levy,” said Don Buczek, Bellbrook’s assistant city manager. “Without an income tax, we’re limited on how much our revenues grow. We’re dependent on property values growing. Because of that, we do try to be conservative in what we spend.”

Bellbrook does not have a municipal income tax so it funds water, police and fire services through property tax levies. Fire trucks are kept as long as possible, according to Buczek. Some are more than 20 years old. Police and service vehicles are used until they stop running altogether.

The median home value in the city was $144,230 and the median tax charged was $3,295, or 2.8 percent of the value.

If the housing values don’t go up, the city has to re-evaluate its spending. In the past, some full-time city positions have been converted to part-time. The city also has delayed some capital purchases and has discussed working with other municipalities to share contracting services.

Buczek said there isn’t a lot of new development planned for the almost 200-year old city.

“Generally, a growing community is going to have a lower tax rate than an established community would,” said David Graham, the Greene County auditor. “Once you don’t grow anymore, you’re stagnant. You’re not going to add any new value.”

A common thread between Sugarcreek Twp. and Bellbrook is the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek School District which is rated “Excellent” by the Ohio Department of Education. Out of every property tax dollar collected in Sugarcreek Twp., 20.4 cents goes to the township and the school district gets 57.2 cents per dollar, township officials said.

The school district is challenged with trying to maintain a high quality education system on limited funds, Keith St. Pierre, the Sugarcreek-Bellbrook School District superintendent said.

“Our property tax may be a little higher, but it’s the same or lower to many who have a property tax and school income tax,” he said.

A little more than half, seven out of 12, of the school districts in Greene County have an income tax.

Miami County

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“In comparison to Montgomery County, the overall tax rate Miami County taxpayers face is less,” Miami County Auditor Matthew W. Gearhardt said.

Property taxes charged as a percentage of median home value in Miami County were some of the lowest in the four-county region. However, 24 of 26 Miami County jurisdictions also pay an income tax to fund schools, compared to six jurisdictions in Montgomery County.

In Casstown, a mostly rural village of 267 residents northwest of Springfield, the median home was valued at $81,550. The median property tax bill was $1,437.47, or 1.76 percent of the home value, the highest percentage in Miami County.

Richard D. Walker, a Casstown trustee, said the only businesses in the village are several “mom and pop” fixtures like Holly’s Cafe & Carryout, Alexander Sewer & Drain and Duran & Sons Plumbing. Homes in the village average 75 to 100 years old and there are no new subdivisions.

Walker said he doesn’t see the tax base changing to include industry, even if it lifted some of the property tax burden off residents.

“People live here because they love the peace and quiet,” Walker said. “There are no city noises, you can only hear the birds and bees.”

Concord Twp.home of the Miami County Fairgrounds — had the highest median home value in the county at $170,200 and median property taxes charged were $2,171 per year, or 1.28 percent of the value. The township of about 5,300 residents landed fifth from the bottom in the ranking of 26 jurisdictions.

“I’m happy to hear it,” said Pat Quillen, fiscal officer for Concord Twp. “These days, people don’t want to pay more taxes than they have to, but they’re willing to pay for the services they want.”

Quillen said receipt of estate tax revenue totalling almost $1.2 million from 2007 to 2012, including $281,657 this year has enabled the township to keep property taxes low, but the state of Ohio is eliminating that revenue stream.

Concord Township is asking residents to approve a 3.7 mills fire and emergency services levy in November. The levy will cost the owner of a $100,000 about $113.31 per year. Residents now pay $73.50 per year for a 2.4 mills fire and emergency services levy currently in place.

Mary Beth Benedict, ficscal officer for Newberry Twp. said learning the community ranked last in Miami County was an “eye opener.”

“It’s great. It’s what we want for our residents,” she said.

The township of about 6,500 residents in the northwestern corner of Miami County is largely rural, comprised mostly of well-kept farms and residential homes, usually with some acreage.

Warren County

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Deerfield Twp., ranked No. 1 in Warren County for property taxes charged as a percentage of home value, but it is an anomaly. Unlike other communities that ranked high on the Dayton Daily News county lists, the Deerfield tax base has a mix of business, commercial and residential properties. It also includes the Kings Local and Mason City school districts, which have the highest effective tax rates in the county and a state rating of “Excellent.”

Warren County median figures were based on a representative sample of taxing districts, not all taxing districts in the jurisdictions. In jurisdictions with multiple school districts, only the dominant district — that most students in the community attend — was used in the calculation. The other three counties — Montgomery, Miami and Greene — used all the taxing districts in each jurisdiction.

Paying for schools and township levies push Deerfield to the top of the list, according to Nick Nelson, the Warren County auditor.

The township, with a population of 36,059, ranked third in the county for property taxes charged and fourth in median home values.

“The housing market intertwines with the commercial and business market,” said Bill Becker, the Deerfield Twp. administrator. “Once you’re in the township, everything is easily accessible.”

The community has gone through a growth spurt in the last 15 to 20 years when land and jobs were abundant, Becker said. However, development in the area slowed along with the economy in recent years.

“Even with a tough economy, we’re holding our own as far as the job market,” Becker said. “Development is slow, but it’s not non-existent.”

The communities that ranked second and third on the list, Salem Twp. and Morrow, are consistent with more rural communities who tend to pay higher taxes as a percentage of home value because there are fewer businesses in their communities.

“The reliance on the residential and agricultural residents is greater,” Nelson said. “Generally when you have high commercial industry, the tax burden gets spread a little more and isn’t as great on the residential property owner.”