A Westerville resident has challenged the legality of a citizens initiative issue aimed at repealing a Westerville City Schools property tax.

A Westerville resident has challenged the legality of a citizens initiative issue aimed at repealing a Westerville City Schools property tax.

Gene Hollins, a Westerville resident and attorney and the city's former assistant law director, filed a protest with the Franklin County Board of Elections last week. He asks the board to rescind its certification of the repeal for the fall ballot.

Hollins' protest states that the citizens initiative petition effort to repeal 6.71 mills of an 11.4-mill levy passed in 2009 is not valid under state law because the 2009 levy was passed as a replacement levy. Under Ohio Revised Code, Hollins argued, only increases or decreases in taxes may be repealed.

The repeal was certified by the elections board Aug. 20 and is to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot as Issue 52.

Hollins said the 11.4-mill levy passed in 2009 replaced a 1.6-mill levy approved by district voters in November 1972 and a 9.8-mill levy approved by voters in June 1979. At the time, the two were being collected at a combined effective rate of 3.43 mills, and passage of the replacement levy restored collection to a full 11.4 mills on the 2009 tax base -- a net effective rate increase of 7.97 mills.

The 6.71 mills targeted for repeal by Taxpayers for Westerville Schools, a citizens group with legal support from the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, is equal to the size of the five-year levy passed by voters in March 2012.

That levy was not eligible for a repeal because it was an emergency levy; only permanent taxes may be repealed.

The Franklin County Board of Elections has a meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. Sept. 4, and the board will hear Hollins' protest at that meeting, board of elections spokesman Ben Piscitelli said.

Meanwhile, the Westerville school board voted at its Aug. 27 meeting to authorize the Columbus law firm of Bricker & Eckler to represent it in any legal matters pertaining to the repeal issue.

The board does not plan to initiate any action related to the repeal, board president Kevin Hoffman said, but board members thought it was important to have lawyers ready to answer any questions or take any action that might be required.

"It is a different construct than we've ever used. It is not a levy. It is not a bond issue. It is a ballot issue," Hoffman said. "This is not about authorizing them to campaign on our behalf. It is solely giving them the ability to intervene if there are points of law that need to be argued around the repeal."

Board member Carol French was the lone vote against authorizing legal representation, saying the board should not have a legal hand in an issue that will go before voters.

"Why would we stop the citizens (from voting)?" French said. "We're using taxpayers' money to fight taxpayers. It doesn't add up."

Board member Cindy Crowe defended the decision.

"I think it's in our rights in our district to protect our finances in our district if there's a way to do it," she said.

The board also voted to seek reimbursement from the Ohio School Board Association's Legal Fund for any costs incurred surrounding the repeal attempt.

French again cast the only dissenting vote.