County auditor: Anti-school levy mailing misquotes him, has bad data

John Stafford

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John Stafford

Greene County Auditor David Graham said Tuesday that an opponent of Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools’ 5.7-mill levy misquoted him and used incorrect data in a mailer sent to community residents.

Levy opponent John Stafford sent the postcard mailer to Bellbrook-Sugarcreek residents in the past week, in part drawing attention to the county’s ongoing property reappraisal process. Text running across the top of the mailer says, “According to David Graham, Greene County Auditor, property taxes are going up on average 13%.”

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“That is not a correct statement,” Graham said Tuesday. “The 12-13% being referred to is actually property value increases that I would expect to occur (in Bellbrook-Sugarcreek). If you project that to taxes, that theory doesn’t work.”

Asked about the discrepancy Tuesday afternoon, Stafford said Graham made the statement about taxes rising 13% when Stafford interviewed Graham weeks ago.

“I was in his office and that’s what he told me,” Stafford said.

But video of that 11-minute interview, posted by Stafford at the time on his anti-levy Facebook page, does not show that.

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“You’re looking at roughly a 12-13% increase in values,” Graham says in the video when asked about the reappraisal. “However, just because values go up 12-13% does not mean tax revenue will go up 12-13%.”

Graham gave a presentation at a Feb. 3 community levy meeting, which Stafford and dozens of others attended, explaining why property taxes do not move in lockstep with property values. He said any tax increase tied to the reappraisal would be much, much smaller than 12-13% and would vary from property to property.

Early voting begins today for the March 17 election. Voters in the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school district will decide on a new, permanent 5.7-mill levy to pay for day-to-day school expenses. The levy is projected to cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $199.50 per year and would generate an annual $3.3 million for the school district.

Bellbrook schools Superintendent Doug Cozad said that after approving more than $2 million in budget cuts, the district is already lean and needs more revenue. Stafford and other levy opponents want lower taxes and have argued the school district should cut teacher pay and benefits.

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Voters overwhelmingly rejected a levy in May 2019, after a confrontational campaign in which both Stafford and levy backers spread misinformation.

Graham said a second statement attributed to him on the new mailer is also partially incorrect. The mailer reads, “David Graham estimates that even without a new levy, the schools will receive an additional $832,000 in funds from the re-assessments.”

Graham said it’s true that a funding increase will occur, and he estimated a fairly similar number ($848,000) on Feb. 3. But Graham said the issue is with the source of the money. He said both Tuesday and Feb. 3 that the majority of any increase does not come from re-assessment of existing residents’ properties – it comes instead from new construction.

On Tuesday, Stafford suggested that Graham may have “adjusted his meaning on what that number was,” adding that the mailer reflects Stafford’s understanding of what Graham said in the interview.

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Bellbrook schools Superintendent Doug Cozad called the mailer “a lot of half-truths and misinterpretations and just outright lies,” arguing that the mailer’s comments about a state performance audit “leaves out essential information that directly impacts the true meaning of those statements.”

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