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Original Intent Matters for Distinguishing Between Replacement and Renewal Levies

In the case of State ex rel. N. Canton City Council v. Stark Cty. Bd. of Elections, Slip Opinion No. 2023-Ohio-726, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that the tax levy in question was actually a replacement levy as opposed to a renewal levy and, therefore, the city council could only place the levy on the ballot at either the general election held during the last year the tax is to be renewed or any election held in the ensuing year.

In this case, the city council argued that the proposed levies were to renew and increase levies to provide for “public assistance,” which is one of the exceptions listed under R.C. 5705.25(A)(2). In response, the county board of elections argued that the levies were replacements to existing levies rather than renewing levies and, therefore, were ineligible as an exception to the levy renewal rule requiring levies to be placed on the ballot during the last year of their effectiveness. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the board of elections.

In support of its decision in favor of the board of elections, the Ohio Supreme Court explained that:

We need not decide what the terms “public assistance,” “relief,” and “health” mean in R.C. 5705.191, because the council’s argument fails regardless of the meanings of those terms. Under the R.C. 5705.25(A)(2) exception to the general rule, any levy proposed for renewal must have been imposed under R.C. 5705.191 and for the purpose of supplementing the general fund for at least one of the purposes specified in R.C. 5705.25(A)(2). Therefore, to determine whether the proposed street and storm-sewer levies fall within the R.C. 5705.25(A)(2) exception, we must look to the purpose of the existing levies that the council seeks to renew — the street and storm-sewer levies that were passed in 2019. In this case, neither of the existing levies was imposed to supplement the general fund for any of the purposes identified in R.C. 5705.25(A)(2). Even if we were to assume that the levies passed in 2019 were imposed under R.C. 5705.191, the council has presented no evidence showing that they were imposed to supplement the general fund.

The existing levies that were passed by North Canton voters in 2019 were imposed for the purposes specified under R.C. 5705.19(G) (street maintenance) and R.C. 5705.19(O) (flood prevention and defense). Indeed, the ballot language from the levies passed in 2019 specified that the taxes would be for the purposes of “street improvements” and “storm water sewer improvements.” Thus, neither of the existing levies were imposed for the purpose of supplementing the city’s general fund. Moreover, under R.C. 5705.10, all revenue derived from the existing levies is required to be credited to special funds related to the purpose for which each levy was passed and to be used only for those purposes. See R.C. 5705.10(C) (“All revenue derived from a special levy shall be credited to a special fund for the purpose for which the levy was made”). The council has not shown that the revenue derived from the existing street levy or from the existing storm-sewer levy has been credited in a way other than what is required by statute. Therefore, the exception in R.C. 5705.25(A)(2) does not provide a basis for placing the proposed street and storm-sewer levies on this year’s primary-election ballot.

2023-Ohio-726 at ¶¶ 30-31.

To read this case, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always-changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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