Reynoldsburg News

Appeals court rules against Reynoldsburg schools

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The Reynoldsburg school district lost a three-year court battle and must pay more than $1 million in property taxes to Licking Heights schools.

The dispute dates back to 2001 and concerns a 1991 agreement the two districts made to share property tax revenue from 200 acres that are in Reynoldsburg city limits and the Licking Heights school district, Reynoldsburg Board of Education President Andrew Swope said.

The property is bordered on the east and west by Summit and Taylor roads and on the north and south by Huggins Lane and Lupine Court.

The districts argued in 2001 about how to calculate tax revenue for the property. The agreement stipulates that children in the district may elect to attend either Reynoldsburg or Licking Heights schools; the number of students determines the way the taxes are split after they are collected by the city of Reynoldsburg.

Three years ago, a state arbitrator ruled that Reynoldsburg owed Licking Heights $1.1 million for six years' worth of collections, but Reynoldsburg officials disputed that decision, claiming the hearing officer did not hold a hearing.

"We did not agree with his calculation and went to a school-funding expert for what was supposed to be arbitration," Swope said.

Reynoldsburg schools sought in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to have the arbitrator's order dismissed in 2011, but the request was denied. The district then appealed that ruling, but the appeals court ruled last month that Reynoldsburg owed the $1.1 million to Licking Heights.

"It has been a long road and I am glad to have it behind us, although not happy that we have to make this payment," Swope said. "We wanted to protect taxpayer dollars, especially since the arbitrator would not tell us how he calculated that number."

The payment covers taxes from 2001 through 2006. Officials from both districts are expected to work on an agreement for the taxes from 2007 through the present.

"Basically, our two school boards or their appointees will meet on an annual basis to come up with a calculation on who owes what," Swope said.

The Reynoldsburg board decided at a special meeting Aug. 30 to authorize the payment to Licking Heights and to petition the State Board of Education to assign a new hearing officer to mediate a territorial agreement for the two districts.

Tricia Moore, district director of shared services and partnerships for Reynoldsburg, said the agreement between the two districts stipulates that if they cannot come to an agreement on a calculation together, a new arbitrator will be assigned.

Licking Heights district officials also said they were happy to put the lawsuit behind them.

"We're pleasantly surprised," Superintendent Philip Warner said. "This is the right decision for both students and community members. We're focusing less on the legal process and focusing on the business of educating students."

Charlie Boss of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.

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