Tuesday, May 23, 2000

Holcomb to pursue tax flap

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Butler County Prosecutor John Holcomb said Monday he will take legal action to recover real estate tax penalties that were illegally forgiven by the county in cases involving more than $500.

        He said he will ignore the hundreds of smaller cases in recent years.

        “Why should I spend $1,000 of the taxpayers' money to sue some guy for $1.50?” Mr. Holcomb told the county commissioners.

        Mr. Holcomb appeared at the commissioners' meeting at their request to discuss the real estate tax penalties that were removed without being sent to the state tax commissioner.

        The issue surfaced about two weeks ago, when Mr. Holcomb sued Butler County Auditor Kay Rogers over a remittance case involving developer Irv Tessler and about $10,000.

        The county auditor's office had been removing tax penalties when authorized by the county treasurer's office.

        Both Ms. Rogers and Butler County Treasurer Mary Law said they were not aware that remittance requests had to be sent to the state tax commissioner. They said they had followed the same procedures as previous county treasurers and auditors.

        A 1982 state law requires the state tax commissioner to rule on real estate tax remittance requests.

        In 1999, the county removed $52,540 in real estate tax penalties in 574 cases. Of that amount, $23,738 was forgiven by the state tax commissioner.

        Mr. Holcomb said he plans to examine the recent cases involving the larger tax penalties for possible criminal wrongdoing.

        Ohio law says remittances of tax penalties are allowed for specific reasons, such as lost or misdirected mail, or clerical errors.

        Commissioner Mike Fox said state law needs to be changed to allow counties to forgive real estate tax penalties in cases involving small amounts of money. The current procedure will cause a logjam of cases, he said.

        In a separate issue, commissioners want to know whether the county is entitled to be reimbursed for some of the rent it paid Mr. Tessler for two buildings the county recently leased for its human services department.

        County officials signed a two-year lease in January 1998 for buildings at 860 and 870 N.W. Washington Blvd. in Hamilton, for about $28,000 per month.

        Human Services moved out one or two months before the lease expired, but the county paid through the end of the lease.But Butler officials sayMr. Tessler may have rented out some of that space to another tenant during that time.


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