It was a very beautiful day looking out the windows of the Office of Nancy Nix as the Great Miami River gently rolled by as it has for many thousands of years. I looked down from the third-floor vantage point into the park that used to be the movie theater in Hamilton, where I first saw Sleeping Beauty and reflected on good memories from childhood. The weather outside was perfect for a day in May of 2023, so it was an excellent reflection of the long history of Butler County, Ohio, where the city of Hamilton had seen so much history, lots of good days and rough times to say the least and of course, the river flows by regardless of what human beings cause themselves by way of trouble. And the topic that Nancy and I were set to talk about, captured well in the video above, was historic trouble. The short story was that Butler County and nearby Clermont County were being penalized for being affluent areas that had recently enjoyed dramatic economic growth. It made an easy target for the new Ohio Tax Commissioner, Patricia Harris, in trying to correct the many sins of the past, where the government had kicked the can down the road over a long period of time. She had decided that there was nowhere left to kick it. So this wasn’t something that just happened well before Nancy Nix took over in Butler County in the very important auditor position, this crisis was brewing, and now it was splashed all over headlines from a recent I-Team report that indicated property values in Butler County were going to go up by a recommended 42%. That meant that property values for a $250,000 house were suddenly going to be at $355,000, an increase of $105,000. And people were not happy about it.
At Thanksgiving Dinner, such news might sound great; people might even open a bottle of wine at the success of their investments in real estate. Suddenly things on paper looked much better, and their homes were worth a lot more. But in Butler County, regarding 8 of the ten school districts, there would be tax increases proportional to that value increase which was going to impact homeowners negatively. For instance, the school district of Ross, right across the river from Nancy’s office, as we spoke about this matter and looked in that direction, they just had a vote to defeat a tax increase for that school. The levy had failed for the third time. But now, because of this news from the Ohio Department of Taxation, Ross is holding off on trying for another levy because they will gain a lot of new revenue from the new tax rates of these inflated property values. That’s the kind of thing that has people so upset, and for good reason. In a lot of ways, the recommendation from the state is taking away a fundamental right of property owners to manage their local governments by essentially taking extra tax money without a vote, with just a decision by the state to calculate these varying percentages based on sales data recorded during a very turbulent time that does not represent the norm. According to the state, which then imposes the percentage rate onto auditors like Nancy Nix, they take a three-year sales reflection of what they think is market value during their state-mandated triennial update. But for this one, that analysis period was one of the worst in the history of the world. Looking at sales from 2019, where America had one of the best economies in human history, then the following year with Covid lockdowns, then the volatility of runaway interest rates resulting from the Biden presidency and the economic tampering of several government controls, the data collected is far from the norm, and has resulted in these crazy recommendations which Nancy Nix and other auditors are questioning, aggressively.
And as bad as all that news was, it was still a good day from the vantage point of Nancy’s office as we talked about the many proactive measures that she and area legislators were doing to help solve the problem. Regarding that, a new Fox 19 article had hit, and I was talking to Senator George Lang about it, where he is proposing a way to change how Ohio’s property values are reassessed, which is obviously needed. Politics aside, Patricia Harris, the Ohio Tax Commissioner, had just been appointed in January of 2023 and obviously could use more time on the job before destroying everyone’s tax bills based on some bad data compiled during her first few months on the job. And George’s proposal as a legislative solution would definitely help her and the people connected to her decision. But the Ohio Department of Taxation itself, according to the spokesman Gary Gudmondson was already headed down the wrong road by digging in with obviously flawed data by saying, “We don’t change our recommendations in response to a county complaint.” What he means is that the Ohio Department of Taxation doesn’t listen to people like Nancy Nix, professionals who have been doing this kind of work for most of their adult lives. Instead, her job was to listen to what they recommended and live with it because they held all the cards.
Yet, there is optimism on the legislative front; in addition to the good work that George Lang is leading, there have been further meetings involving Sara Carruthers, Rodney Creech, Jennifer Gross, and Thomas Hall. Treasurer Mike McNamara, Clerk of Courts Mary Swain, and Recorder Danny Crank are working aggressively to propose short-term and long-term solutions. Some of them are legislative, such as what George is working on. Some would involve amendments to the State Constitution, which are obviously long overdue. Others are things that Nancy Nix and the names mentioned can do as proactive measures. It’s not all bad news. But ultimately, these rate hikes are the result of years of government mismanagement from the state level imposed on regional government, where the most accountability to the voting public is supposed to be the key to all decision-making. But in this case, stuck against the cost of volatile bad decisions, especially during the Covid period, the impact of those decisions is not flowing into people’s property value assessments which are being penalized because they live in areas that were disproportionately well off in relation to other parts of the state that didn’t do so well. And now, we must sort it all out in a way that makes Ohio an attractive place to continue investing in. Otherwise, people might leave for destinations without these kinds of problems. The burden falls on the Ohio Tax Commissioner to develop better strategies for recovering costs from kicking the can down the road for so long and analyzing the market temperament correctly with a better sampling than what the last three years have shown, as they were the worst three years in the history of life on planet earth. And that isn’t the fault of innocent people who have lived in their homes for a long time and plan to stay in their homes. This is the task that I think Nancy Nix is doing a great job of representing Butler County under very turbulent times. But like the history of Hamilton itself and the Great Miami River that flows past her office, we are living history that will be remembered for a long time to come, and that history is made better by some of the great people who are tackling this problem aggressively in defense of the innocent who might otherwise be victims of bad government, such as we are seeing now with the Ohio Department of Taxation in its first few months of a new commissioner.