By DENISE GRANT
There was more yelling Wednesday at city hall, but Findlay leaders may have scratched and clawed their way toward a compromise on estimated tax payments.
Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik became enraged during the afternoon meeting of the city tax board, as she continued to defend the city’s practice of allowing certain individuals and businesses to skip estimated payments on their taxes, if there is likely to be an overpayment.
The mayor accused Councilwoman Holly Frische, R-1, of politicizing the practice by constantly referring to it as a deferral.
“No one is receiving a deferral from the City of Findlay,” said Mihalik, who at one point was yelling so loud her voice cracked. “Everyone is paying their taxes when they are due.”
Frische, who has long been critical of the practice, continued to insist that allowing taxpayers to skip paying estimated tax payments, without penalty, is a deferral.
She challenged the mayor to take the politics out of it by working with the tax board to develop written policies and procedures to govern the practice. The city has been allowing the missed estimated payments since 2009, at the discretion of the tax commissioner.
The city tax department has reported that two individuals and 54 businesses were allowed to delay paying estimated tax installments, for a total of $1.08 million in payments, for tax year 2016.
Frische said with a set policy in place, “every citizen of Findlay” can look at the policy and see how they can qualify for the program. State auditors have repeatedly urged the city to put the practice in writing.
Mihalik said a draft version of a policy is being reviewed by an auditing firm. However, both Frische and city Auditor Jim Staschiak argued that the policy should be developed by the tax board as a whole, and then reviewed by auditors, not vice versa. Tax board members haven’t been shown the draft.
The mayor seemed to concede on that point.
City tax board members include Mihalik, who is the chairwoman; Staschiak; City Treasurer Susan Jo Hite; Councilman Grant Russel, R-At-Large; and Don Rasmussen, law director.
Andrew Thomas, the city tax administrator, also agreed to meet with Staschiak to develop a plan to report tax numbers that would better assist the auditor’s office with making revenue projections.
Thomas said he is doing his best to work fairly with taxpayers.
Both Thomas and Rasmussen said that eventually, the entire issue may become a moot point.
In October, Findlay joined a class-action lawsuit challenging the state’s plans to collect net-profit taxes from businesses.
Ohio House Bill 49, which is Gov. John Kasich’s two-year budget bill, allows business owners to file tax returns directly with the Ohio Department of Taxation, instead of with the municipality in which the business operates.
The lawsuit is currently seeking an injunction on those collections.
Thomas said he is already receiving notices from businesses that plan to file through the state.
Rasmussen said the law challenges the constitutional home rule powers of municipalities like Findlay. Central tax collections through the new Ohio Business Gateway could affect the city’s ability to review returns for accuracy and affect its ability to correct, audit or review returns, he said.
The law gives the state control of over $600 million in municipal revenue, and allows the state to collect interest from the local government revenue, instead of the local government.