Monday, October 21, 2013


Eventually (1846 - The Oregon Treaty) the United States government settled its claims to the Oregon Territory boundary claims at the 49th Parallel; not 54 degrees, 40 minutes as the 1844 presidential election slogan "54-40 or Fight" with the British, once again, would have had the U.S. do.

A boundary fight of sorts has been underway in Stark County for some time now. 

But this version is in financial terms:  "$8.9 Million or Fight."  However, the local fight does have a land aspect to it.

It has taken the form of many of Stark's school districts challenging valuations of Stark County properties for property tax purposes

A few months ago, Stark County auditor Alan Harold, made reference with a "fight of sorts" going on between the auditor's office and Stark County Educational Service Center superintendent on the auditor's office valuations of properties.  (Note:  my wife, Mary, is a member of the SCESC Governing Board).

Harold made an oblique reference to the fight in casual conversation.

A leading figure in the fight is SCESC and Canton City Schools attorney Mary Jo Shannon Slick.

We all know that public school funding is always tottering on the edge of survival -  witness the series of cases DeRolph v. State of Ohio (1991 through 2003).

The Ohio Supreme Court seemed poised take the Ohio Legislature to task, to wit:

March 24, 1997. The Ohio Supreme Court issues an opinion holding that the current funding system is unconstitutional and orders a "complete, systematic overhaul" of the system with enactment required within 12 months by March 24, 1998. The Court remands the case to the trial court to conduct a hearing and issue findings as to whether the anticipated remedial legislation satisfies the mandates of the Ohio Supreme Court.(DeRolph I) (Source:  Bricker & Eckler website)
Eventually, Ohio's "court of last resort" decided it had no stomach for this fight in granting a Writ of Prohibition on any additional litigation on the case within Ohio jurisprudence even though the court's 1997 has never been implemented.

Consequently, Ohio's public schools have been in a survival mode ever since.

Accordingly, you are seeing more and more "wars" like Morgan's being waged across Ohio.

The latest battle being fought is over the valuation of the Huntington Bank Building, it land and its "across the street" parking garage.

The SCPR has done its own analysis of the financial issues at stake.

Currently, the CCS gets nearly all of the $152,116 (2012 auditor billings) that Canton's tax rate of 84.065154 generates. (source of data:  Stark County auditor's website)

By The Report's calculation, the CCS has about $130,000 at stake over and above what Amerimar is conceding in terms of property tax increase.

The auditor's valuation of the Huntington property was valued at $5.03 millon (buidling, garage and land) for 2012 property tax purposes.

However, on January 18, 2013 the bank building property sold (from Canton Investments LLC et al) to Amerimar for $8.9 million and the garage for $3.175 for a total of $12.075 million.

So $12.075 millon is a lot more than $5.03 million, no?

Of course, the Canton City Schools were going to want a change in the valuation on the official records of the Stark County auditor's office for the purpose of the schools' desperately needed finances, no?

And, predictably, the CCS under Shannon-Slick's guidance, filed for a re-valuation with the Stark County auditor's office Board of Revision.

And, also predictably, Amerimar filed a counter re-evaluation.

The CCS wants the $12.075 million 2013 sale to be the base for valuation purposes.

Not being stupid and piggish by insisting that the $5.03 valuation base (pre-2013-sale) be retained,  the Amerimar folks were willing to see an increase in the property taxes increase and became pro-active in advocating for a $7.74 million valuation base.

Or, on second thought, maybe Amerimar did come across as being stupid and piggish?

After all, the new owner did not - in its $7.74 proposal - even split the difference ($3.87 million) between $4.335 million and $12.075 million which would put a "in the middle" compromise figure at $8.9 millon which coincidentally matches the purchase price of $8.9 for the bank building alone.

To the SCPR's way of thinking, $8.9 million would be "the starting point" of any negotiations between the CCS and Amerimar.

And it was totally insulting (as reported by Matt Rink of The Repository on Friday, Plaza owner, Canton school district disagree over tax bill) that Amerimar had the audacity to say that it apparently overpaid $4.335 million
  • ($12.075 million - $7.74 million [i.e. the 2013 sale price minus what Amerimar says the property is now worth)
on the property.

Companies, like people, do make bad deals for themselves.

But one has to believe that Amerimar did its due diligence in making the purchase and did not include $4.335 above and beyond the $7.74 million on what seems to be a ridiculous standard (as reported by Rink), to wit:
In a counter complaint to the board of revisions, an attorney for Amerimar said the sales price was based on future economic growth, particularly from the oil and gas industry, but that current conditions do not support the higher valuation.  
"Based on future economic growth" sounds like a "hope and a prayer" to the SCPR and falls under the category of: "Who is going to believe this story" even if it could be established as being true?

Also, a part of the Amerimar strategy of getting a lower valuation than the sale price is the lure to Canton city officials (to get the Healy administration involved on its behalf) that it might be interested in buying (again, "in the future," the nearby McKinley Grand Hotel.
  • Note:  McKinley Grand officials say there have been no discussions for about a year.  (see quote below)
The McKinley Grand allusion is an interesting factor in this whole saga as an enticement by Amerimar to gain the involvement of Canton mayor William J. Healy, II.

Remember now, for some time now Mayor Healy has been promoting his "Four Pillars" (Safety, Education, Neighborhoods and Jobs).

So you would think, wouldn't you? that Healy would come out squarely for the CCS version of what the valuation should be.

Well, not so quick.

The SCPR thinks Healy is "at heart" a "corporatist Democrat," notwithstanding his "of late" embrace by Stark County's organized labor given his track record of wining and dining companies across the globe in his quest to bring jobs to Canton and, also, his having a great degree of pride in having attained a MBA from the Stern School of Business of New York University.

He does play the "left of center - for the people" rhetorical game with politically-inclined locals and the unions, but in the estimate of The Report, this is quintessential Healy political bamboozling at its finest.

So the SCPR is not surprised (reading between the lines) for Healy to come out in Amerimar's favor to the detriment of the finances of Canton's pillar of Healy's Pillar; namely, Education.

Inherent contradictions are nothing new to Healy.  He has made being unaccountable for his statements and actions a "political" art form which is unequaled by any other Stark County politician.

For a refresher from Rink's article on Healy administration responses, here goes:
  • Amerimar, which has eyed the nearby McKinley Grand Hotel, has tried to involve Canton officials in the matter. Fonda Williams, chief of staff for Mayor William J. Healy II, placed a phone call to school Treasurer Jeff Gruber recently to relay the developer’s requests. (emphasis added by SCPR)
  • Williams said Amerimar officials have asked for the city’s help with their tax bill.

     “They had no idea (tax bill) was going up that high,” Williams said. “They were asking if the schools could lower their demand.”
    The city, he said, has been “quietly helping them,” referring to calls he placed to Gruber about the matter, Williams believes the dispute could impact Amerimar’s interest in the McKinley Grand Hotel, however, hotel officials said last month that there have not been any discussions about a sale of the hotel in more than a year. (emphasis added)
  • “The request has not come to my desk from Amerimar,” he said. “...We’ve called school officials and said, ‘Is there any break you can give them?’ But to no avail.” (emphasis added)
Three cheers for the Canton City Schools!!!

Finally, there is the matter of the Harold's auditor office (the Board of Revision) dragging its feet on making a decision.

According to Rink, the competing valuation complaints went to decision on October 1.

So what is the delay?

Is there some more politicking going on?

To the SCPR this is an "open and shut case" for the Canton City Schools at the $12.075 million figure.

Everyday Stark Countians are pretty much held to the recent "sales" figures in terms of valuation determinations of the auditor's office.

Under "proving your case" on the auditor website, guess what the #1 criterion is on valuation determinations?

You've got it:  "a recent sale of the property."

Here it is October 21, 2013.

So isn't the question that Canton schools' taxpayers ought to be asking the Stark County Board of Revision members:

Is January 18, 2013 recent enough??????????????????

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