State Lawmaker creates bill to hinder Columbus City Schools' real estate lawsuits

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A lawmaker created a bill to give homeowners more rights when school districts file lawsuits against them, and possibly slow down the process (WSYX/WTTE)

One Ohio State lawmaker has a message for the largest school district in the state: Stop going after property owners.

Scoring Our Schools found the Columbus City School Board filed suits against 760 citizens who bought property within the district in 2017. The school board filed complaints to have those property values raised so they could collect more property tax.

The recent owner of a triplex in Italian Village contacted Scoring Our Schools to say he just settled with the school board this week. He said he could only afford the property, which is his first home, with the help of additional rent. While properties around him are tax abated, he must now pay $13,000 out of pocket over the next 12 months.

"I think what the Columbus School District is doing is predatory," said Representative Derek Merrin from Lucas County. "I think it border lines on abusive."

Representative Merrin created a bill late last year to provide property owners more rights in this process and possibly slow it down. It requires school boards to create a resolution for each lawsuit they want to file, vote on the resolution at their meeting, and provide the property owner notice of that vote. That would give the property owner a chance to speak to the board before the lawsuit is filed.

"We don't need local governments going around harassing property owners," said Rep. Merrin. "They need to concentrate what they're in charge of. They need to educate children."

The House of Representatives passed the bill in March and it now sits in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Columbus City Schools has already testified against it.

"It simply make it a much more onerous process," said Columbus City Schools Chief Financial Officer Stan Bahorek. "It would require more work, potentially slow us down."

The district claims to only pursue investment or income properties with its value reassessment complaints. They've collected less than $10 million a year with these lawsuits which they admit is not much for their $1.2 billion dollar budget.

"Every dollar counts," said Bahorek.