The failure of some property owners to pay their fair share of taxes is neither a new problem nor a unique problem in the Mahoning Valley.
Regular readers of The Vindicator already know this is true as the newspaper has published annually pages and pages of delinquent property taxes owed on thousands of properties in Mahoning County for decades.
The aim of publishing this list, which is required by Ohio law, is of course to inform the public that the owners of the listed parcels have failed to pay their property taxes and are therefore at risk of their property being confiscated by the government becomes.
In addition, its publication in the newspaper of Record has served the local government well in triggering the payment of these delinquent taxes. We know it works because the second time the list is published it is always significantly shorter – an indication that many property owners were quick to react and pay their overdue taxes. In all honesty, some may not even have realized they were criminals until they read it in the newspaper or a friend saw it and informed them.
The founding fathers of our state knew the importance of publishing such notices in newspapers. They required a printed publication of the delinquent tax lists in the interests of maximum transparency.
However, now some Ohio lawmakers are working to restrict access to this information. Legislation pending in Ohio Senate Bill 95, an economic development bill already passed by the Senate, is now being amended in the House of Representatives to curb the requirements for these notices to be published in local newspapers. If this is successful, the local government would only have to publish the list once in local newspapers. After that, the list will only be found on government websites.
This is a problem for many reasons.
Property owners will now be forced to search various websites for information about criminal property taxes instead of telling them about it on the pages of the daily newspaper.
The language of the bill also requires a one-time publication of notices of impending property tax foreclosures in a newspaper. Subsequent notices would be permitted on the government websites.
Think about it.
That said, if a property owner about to lose his property through foreclosure misses the first notice in the newspaper, he or she may never know whether to search for information online. At a time when many Ohioans are suffering from extreme economic hardship, it is very worrying that lawmakers are looking at ways to reduce public awareness that the government can seize their property.
Additionally, these legislative measures reduce the scrutiny and balance associated with local government officials making these lists available for publication to an outside agency – the newspaper.
It’s also just another step in allowing the government to operate in the dark. Newspapers reach thousands of readers every day. What happens if this obligation is lifted? Few residents regularly scoured government websites to see if they might have missed a property tax bill, let alone so many Ohio residents still don’t have easily accessible internet access.
In the name of fairness, shouldn’t the abbreviated list removing the names of those who paid their bills after the first newspaper publication be reproduced in a second newspaper publication?
Tax arrears are a very serious issue, and law-abiding residents who pay their taxes on time have a right to know if and when they may have missed an erroneous payment.
We urge you to contact your state lawmakers listed below to remind them of the importance of openness and transparency at a time when government is increasingly trying to operate in the dark.
State Senator Michael Rulli, R-Salem, can be reached by phone at 614-466-8285.
Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, Rep. Representing Ohio’s 58th Statehouse District can be reached at 614-466-9435 or by email at [email protected].
Al Cutrona State Representative, R-Canfield, representing Ohio’s 59th Statehouse District, can be reached by phone at 614-466-6107. or by email at rep59 @ ohio house.gov.
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