Westerville News & Public Opinion

Supreme Court ends levy repeal effort

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The Ohio Supreme Court will not force the Franklin County Board of Elections to place a repeal of Westerville City Schools taxes on the November ballot.

The court issued a ruling this morning, Sept. 20, in the case of Taxpayers for Westerville Schools v. the Franklin County Board of Elections.

The local citizens group, Taxpayers for Westerville Schools, filed a case with the Ohio Supreme Court on Sept. 6, seeking a directive to the Franklin County Board of Elections to place on the November ballot a repeal of 6.71 mills of an 11.4-mill levy passed in 2009.

The Franklin County Board of Elections first certified the issue for the ballot Aug. 20 after Taxpayers for Westerville Schools submitted more than 5,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot as a citizens initiative petition. It was approved to appear as Issue 52 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The board of elections, however, reversed course Sept. 4 and voted to remove the repeal from the ballot, in response to a protest filed by Westerville lawyer Gene Hollins.

Hollins' protest asserted that the 2009 levy could not be repealed because it did not increase taxes. Under Ohio law, only levies that increase taxes may be repealed.

The 2009 levy renewed two previous levies: a 1.6-mill levy approved by district voters in November 1972 and a 9.8-mill levy approved by voters in June 1979. The 11.4-mill levy passed in 2009 totaled the 11.4 mills originally approved by voters in 1972 and 1979.

Taxpayers for Westerville Schools, which was represented legally by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, maintained that the 2009 levy was a tax increase because the previously passed levies at the time were being collected at an effective rate of 3.43 mills.

Thus, the 2009 levy increased the effective millage rate by 7.97 mills, back to the originally approved amount.

The Supreme Court ultimately sided with Hollins and other groups who had filed arguments supporting his case, including the Westerville Board of Education, the Ohio School Boards Association, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators and the Ohio Association of School Business Officials.

In its decision, the Supreme Court stated that the voted millage determined the rate of the levy, not the effective rate, which shrinks over time because of House Bill 920.

"We conclude that the phrase, 'rate of levy,' in this context refers to the amount of millage approved by the voters regardless of whether the effective or actual amount of taxes collected or paid has been reduced by other provisions," the decision stated.

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