Lake Local, Northwest Local and Green Local passed resolutions to join the Ohio School Pipeline Coalition.
Local school districts have joined a coalition that is fighting attempts by two pipelines to reduce their tax bills.
Rover Pipeline and NEXUS Gas Transmission have asked the Ohio Department of Taxation to reduce the taxable value of their respective natural gas pipelines by almost half. The precise terms of each tax appeal are confidential under state law.
County auditors use the value set by the Department of Taxation to determine collections for school districts, townships, library districts and other entities.
Last year, the Rover and NEXUS pipelines were projected to generate $20 million in extra revenue in Stark County and lower the rates on levies that raise a set amount of money.
The pipelines carry natural gas from the Utica and Marcellus shales to markets in the Midwest and Canada.
Energy Transfer owns Rover and Enbridge owns NEXUS. The companies previously said they are seeking fair and accurate tax valuations of their property.
Lake Local, Northwest Local and Green Local— three districts crossed by the NEXUS pipeline — passed resolutions in March to join the Ohio School Pipeline Coalition.
Other districts, such as Marlington Local and Fairless Local, have discussed joining the coalition, but their boards haven’t yet taken action.
Marlington was projected to get $3.7 million from NEXUS and the board wants to upgrade the district’s three elementary schools. Fairless, which has been planning to build a new high school, was set to get $3.9 million from Rover.
"It really impacts us right now as schools, and I’m glad we’re getting together and we’re going to consolidate and fight this thing as one," said Northwest Treasurer Dan Levengood, whose district was projected to get an additional $700,000 from NEXUS, which crosses the northern most part of the district in Summit County. "Hopefully, if we all come together, we’ll be able to have a stronger voice in it."
The coalition was organized by Cajon Keeton, treasurer of Benton-Carroll-Salem Local Schools in Oak Harbor. Neither Rover nor NEXUS crosses the district, but Oak Harbor has experience dealing with property taxes on public utilities. It’s home to the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station.
"You read these articles about school districts getting millions and millions of dollars and, in the back of my head, I always thought it was going to be short lived," Keeton said. "And turns out it was, as both utilities filed for a major write-down of their property."
The pipelines have begun making tax payments that are in line with the valuation cuts they’ve requested.
Based on those payments, Rover and NEXUS appear to be seeking to reduce their valuations by about half, said Keeton, who argued the pipelines should pay taxes based on the initial value calculated by the state.
At least 14 districts have joined the coalition but 40 have shown interest, Keeton said last week. The coalition holds its first meeting on Thursday.
Lake Superintendent Kevin Tobin said the school board voted to join the coalition for a year to "see if it had any legs."
NEXUS was projected to generate almost $1.3 million in additional revenue for Lake, but Tobin has taken a cautious approach when charting the district’s financial strategy.
"What we were told at the beginning has not come to fruition," he said.
Tobin said pipeline companies have their lobbyists, so he sees a benefit to the district having another voice in Columbus alongside county auditors during the tax appeal process.
Stark County Auditor Alan Harold said the Department of Taxation has told auditors that it could have a ruling on the pipeline valuations in June. After that, the pipelines or county auditors could appeal to the Board of Tax Appeals and ultimately the Supreme Court of Ohio, a process that could take years to sort out.
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