Bortz: End tax-exempt legal action

The litigation to determine if several Warren County entities will retain their tax-exempt status has gone on long enough, according to a county commissioner.

Commissioner John Bortz made a motion at Wednesday’s regular meeting to “withdraw the litigation relative to the tax exempt properties.”

The motion failed without a second from the other two commissioners.

“This situation needs to be followed through,” Commissioner Chairman Stephen Vanco said. He described it as a “fiscal responsibility of the county.”

He also said he would like to see the decisions made by the courts rather than by the state legislature through a proposed amendment to the state constitution.

Commissioner John Eggleston did not comment on the matter.

Bortz said it is appropriate to look into the matter and determine whether or not tax-exempt entities should retain that status. However, the time for that look is not now.

“It’s not like we’re flush with cash,” he said. “I do not feel comfortable allocating additional county resources to these lawsuits.”

“The commissioners have it within our capacity to make a difference whether or not we want to continue to pursue this,” Bortz said.

He said he would be interested in working with the entities on PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreements. “What could have been a collaborative understanding of the issue has now become full-blown litigation.”

“I appreciate the sincere efforts of (Chief Assessor) Karen Beardsley and the entire assessment office staff and further extend my sincere appreciation to the volunteer members of the board of appeals,” Bortz said. “But now it’s time, in my mind, for the commissioners to show some true leadership on this issue.”

Bortz mentioned cases involving Warren General Hospital, the Warren YMCA, and the Rouse Home.

He said all three “perform valuable services in our community.”

“The county does business with the hospital – very valuable business,” he said.

The county and the hospital recently entered into a contract which would see hospital services provided to Warren County jail inmates at a reduced rate, Bortz said, and agreements like that could be jeopardized in the future.

The situation with the Rouse Home is an interesting one for the commissioners. On one hand, they are the elected representatives of the municipal government backing the board of appeals. On the other, they make up a majority of the board of trustees at the Rouse.

Bortz said the two parties should be able to come to an agreement without resorting to the court system in that case.

He said the lawsuits could end up costing tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars for each side. “It is going to be expensive. It’s going to be long and drawn out. It’s not going to be one and done.”

Appeals could keep the lawsuits alive for years.

Bortz said a financial officer for one of the entities told him legal fees on the issue have already cost the entity $30,000 “and the meter is still running.”

“The county just signed up with a high-profile attorney,” Bortz said.

Instead of proceeding down the current path, “we’ve got to take some leadership to take care of this thing,” he said. “Is that where I want my county to be? I for one have to say no.”