Our opinion: Talking never hurts

It’s unfortunate that the county commissioners and/or their attorney have bowed out of a “summit meeting” hosted by the Warren County School District on the subject of the tax-exempt status of a half dozen non-profit organizations in the county.

The county and the non-profits have been at legal loggerheads for almost a year over their tax status, since the county’s Board of Assessment Appeals revoked their tax-exempt status because it determined that they had failed a test of operations established by the state Supreme Court, usually referred to as the HUP test.

The non-profits won a preliminary round in court, though not much more than a delaying action, when Warren County Common Pleas Judge Gregory Hammond threw out the county’s case because of procedural errors, leaving open the opportunity for the county to re-do the original action properly. The commissioners have already voted to do just that.

The school board has attempted to bring both sides to the table to talk.

Up until last Friday, it looked like that was going to happen. But that’s when the commissioners said they weren’t coming. It’s a fairly meaningless summit when only one side is at the table.

Commissioner John Eggleston, in justifying his board’s dismissal of the meeting, said, “We are just unclear as to what it is they want to accomplish,” also noting that the non-profit entities have expressed no interest in a payment in lieu of taxes or any other arrangement other than continuation of their tax-exempt status.

Indeed, in the school board’s original invitation, both sides were invited to a two-or-three-hour meeting to discuss “the law and facts from that party’s perspective” along with a “general discussion…to address questions and to identify areas of commonality.” It doesn’t mention PILOTs per se, though one might imagine the topic arising during “general discussion.”

The school board indicated its preference that the meeting be public, though it offered the option of a private session, which, because it would pertain to pending litigation, would be an exception to the state’s Sunshine Act even if there were quorums of both the commissioners and school board present.

Eggleston seemed to signal a dissatisfaction by the commissioners that the tax-exempts do not seem to be willing to even discuss a PILOT, and thus the commissioners are not willing to discuss anything on the subject outside of a courtroom. Negotiated payments in lieu of taxes have been utilized in some other areas to satisfy similar circumstances.

However, we believe there is always benefit in talking, even if the two sides are miles apart in their arguments.