The three Lorain County’s three commissioners don’t always agree, but it is the right step to support the County Auditor’s Office with their hopes to take their battle to the Ohio Supreme Court to determine whether greenhouses are eligible for property tax should be.
On April 28, Lorain County Commissioners Michelle Hung, David J. Moore, both Republicans, and Matt Lundy, a Democrat, voted 3-0 to approve legal costs for County Auditor Craig Snodgrass to hire an outside legal advisor assisting the filing of the motion is assisting the state Supreme Court to review an appeals court ruling in the greenhouse taxation litigation.
The case arises from the property tax dispute with Green Circle Growers, in which it was argued that the greenhouses are personal property that is not subject to property tax on its 186 acre site at 51051 US Route 20 in Camden Township.
The County Commissioners approved $ 35,000 expense on the appeal.
If accepted, the Auditor’s Office will spend up to $ 150,000 on the trial.
Snodgrass will use his office’s real estate appraisal funds to pay for legal counsel.
It is not general fund money, and Snodgrass acknowledged that it is a significant amount of money that his office has saved through its internal operations.
Snodgrass plans to discontinue Tucker Ellis LLP, which has an office in Cleveland.
The district attorney’s office lacks the skills or resources to specialize in this work.
Firelands Local Schools and Snodgrass have argued that the greenhouses are legal “buildings” and “structures” that should be included in the company’s property valuation for property taxes.
In March, Ohio’s 9th District Court of Appeal justices ruled 2-1 that the structures were real estate.
Snodgrass will ask the state Supreme Court to review this decision, but stated that the court has no obligation to hear the case.
We hope the court will hear the case as it is interesting and could have implications for other industries.
Green Circle Growers is one of the 10 largest greenhouses in the country.
If the company prevails in court, the Green Circle Growers will have to refund the taxes paid – possibly $ 400,000 from Lorain County and about $ 2.2 million from Firelands Schools.
Snodgrass said Lorain County JVS, Camden Township, Kipton Village, Lorain County Public Health, and the local Common Ambulance District are other policy subdivisions that would be affected.
In the future, other companies and property owners will have to pay more because the tax burden will shift to them.
Snodgrass and Lundy point out that their fight is not against business, but for taxpayers.
People shouldn’t blame them for trying to protect the tax base because everyone should be paying their share.
Lorain County’s Assistant Attorney General Dan Petticord agreed with Snodgrass that the long-term consequences of this decision will be significant.
Petticord added that it is well worth fighting a fight and that it is worth using the right people to argue that Ohio tax law is incorrect on this issue.
Columbus attorney Jonathan T. Brollier, who represented Green Circle Growers, said the appeals court’s decision upheld a 2018 Ohio Board of Tax Appeals ruling in favor of the company, reducing the amount of property tax it paid for tax years 2015 and 2016 owed.
In a post-ruling statement, Brollier said the Tax Board of Appeal and now the Court of Appeal agreed with the company’s position that greenhouses on the property are “business facilities” as defined in the Revised Ohio Code and are therefore not subject to property tax.
In contrast, permanent buildings on Green Circle Growers’ property, including the office building and warehouse, are subject to property tax.
Brollier went on to say that Green Circle Growers, with its 900 employees, is making a significant and positive economic impact on the local community.
In addition to the company’s share of property taxes, employees pay federal, state, and local income taxes.
Brollier also stated that the company and its owners have historically been generous in supporting nonprofits in the local community.
The problem may seem mysterious, but Snodgrass said it would have far-reaching implications for Ohio tax law if business owners start arguing that various structures are personal property that shouldn’t count towards property taxes paid to school districts and local governments.
Snodgrass argues that companies like car washes, storage units, and golf courses could have similar claims.
And when it comes to paying attention to taxpayers’ money, we hope that the Commissioners will agree more often.
It is also good news that the Commissioners are teaming up with the Audit Bureau and Prosecutor’s Office to provide clarity on the Greenhouses Act and possibly other industries on this issue that affects personal and property taxes.