Angry community members confronted municipal leaders over taxes at a tense meeting on Monday after learning they had been overtaxed for 15 years.
Residents had the chance to express their concerns and ask questions of city council members and other local leaders while there was standing room only inside the Rittman Recreation Center. Most were irate after receiving a letter informing them that Rittman had been overtaxing them on municipal income tax.
Rittman has been collecting municipal income taxes for the past 15 years at a rate of 1.5 percent when the correct, permitted rate was one percent.
The error was discovered when city leaders considered a ballot measure to raise the city income tax to two percent. Municipal income tax rates above one percent are subject to voter approval in Ohio. Voters in Rittman authorized an additional 0.5 percent tax in 1977, which city officials intended to expire at the end of 2007, to approve a 1.5 percent tax rate for 30 years. However, the city updated its codified rules after voters approved modifications to its tax code in 1996. Accidentally leaving out December 31, 2007, as the end date of the additional 0.5 percent income tax resulted in the city continuing to collect at the 1.5 percent rate. City officials reportedly found the error last year.
Residents want their money back, but the city claimed they can only give back one year’s worth of payments.
Rittman city officials said there is a one-year statute of limitations for recouping the payment of an unlawful income tax under Ohio law. They said that to get this kind of refund; taxpayers must meet “significant procedural requirements.”
“At this time, we are following Ohio Revised Code, which advises a one-year statute of limitations on the collection of such taxes,” Rittman finance director Matthew Bubp told The Ohio Star.
According to officials, even in the absence of legislation, refunding 15 years’ worth of taxes “would bankrupt the City.”
Despite the frustration shown by residents, the city council said it needs to put an issue on the ballot in May, asking voters to bring back the 1.5 percent rate.
“For some people, this is thousands of dollars, if one of us were to not pay you our tax for 15 years, you would put a lien on our house, you would garnish our wages, or you would charge us interest,” one resident said.
“You are upset that it seems the government, the city is playing by a different set of rules, you’re not wrong, that’s Ohio Revised Code,” Rittman law director Matthew Simpson said.
“If this city extends you mercy if there is one person or many persons who owe you back taxes, would you also wipe their slate clean?” another resident said.
City manager Bobbie Beshara told The Ohio Star, that it was shocking to find the error and that it had gone on for so long.
“We were shocked to find the error and have reported the issue to the Ohio Auditor of State and the firm that conducts the annual City Audit. We have instructed the Regional Income Tax Agency (RITA), which administers our municipal income taxes, to quickly fix the problem. RITA has been extremely helpful and assures us that our city municipal taxpayers will be assessed the correct rate of 1 percent for the tax year 2022 and moving forward,” Beshara told The Ohio Star.
For the 2022 tax year, residents will receive a refund but nothing for the additional 14 years of overpayments.
Resident Andrew Hershberger, he said the city is handling the situation as best as possible.
“For the most part, the city is doing the best they can with what they have. Yes, mistakes have been made and this situation is frustrating, but vowing to never pass another tax increase and demanding the half a percent back will only make the situation here worse,” Hershberger said.
Rittman city officials claim that if the rate stays at 1 percent, city services will suffer. However, several locals disagree with that justification.
“We hope that they are going to listen to us tonight and understand how important it is to stay at that 1.5 percent for the community, for infrastructure, to make sure we can run the community properly,” Beshara said.
“Fifteen years of sneaking and doing it wasn’t enough so they want to keep on getting more money. Well the way Rittman citizens were talking it’s not going to pass and I’ll vote no on that ballot. As well as, they owe people money and it shouldn’t matter if it will bankrupt the city. They should have thought about that before they went fifteen years on the mistake they claim it was,” resident Gary Maynard told The Ohio Star.
“Don’t let them use fear to get their five percent. That’s why they mention cutting police, fire and EMS. They took 8.8 million from us through their negligence and now they need to understand that’s not right,” resident Jason Troy said.
“This is a no win situation, sue and the city goes broke and after lawyer fees the citizens would only get pennies on the dollar back. If the city wins then nothing changes,” resident Ron Woodward told The Star.
On Monday, the city council voted twice: once to lower the income tax rate to one percent, which was essentially a formality; and once to allow the people to determine whether to raise the tax rate back to 1.5 percent in the May election. Both passed.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Rittman, Ohio” by Dougsmithjr1982. CC BY-SA 3.0.