September 30, 2014

Elyria
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Lawsuit planned to force county to give tax breaks

LORAIN — The city plans on filing a lawsuit against the county auditor’s office over a disagreement about which property owners should receive tax abatements.

Lorain Law Director Mark Provenza sent a letter to Auditor MarkStewart on July 19 that gives Stewart 15 days to grant about 140 property tax abatements to residents who have applied for them. That deadline expired Friday.

“We are in the process of drafting a complaint,” Provenza said.

The abatements were applied for mostly by residents of the city’s west side who live in what are called community reinvestment areas. Five such areas have been created in the city since the 1980s as a way to get people to move into the city and to develop weak market areas, but each area had its own abatement amount.

In 2006, however, the City Council passed an amendment to the CRA program establishing a uniform abatement amount of 100 percent for 15 years. As a result, a flood of new homeowners from the city’s booming west side applied for the property tax break.

Once those applications went to the county auditor, who approves all property tax abatements, the abatements were denied because the auditor’s office assumed the new tax abatement amounts were to be applied only to new homes built after the amendment was passed.

The Community Development Department had already decided, however, that the abatements would be for all homes built in 2000 or later. But despite repeated pleas from city officials, Stewart wouldn’t budge.

Linda Keys, the assistant chief deputy auditor for the county, said at the time that the auditor’s office had never applied abatements to homes built before an ordinance was passed setting up the abatement, and she didn’t think that what the city was trying to do was allowed by law.

The county prosecutor’s office even got involved and determined last month that the city was in its legal rights to create the CRAs however it wanted, but the abatements still haven’t been granted.

Lorain Safety Service Director Mike Kobylka, who gives final approval to all CRA applications before they are forwarded to the county, said Friday that he has wanted the city to take action against the county for months.

“As the housing officer of the city, I looked at every application, and I agree with our law directors, county prosecutor, basically everyone but the county auditor, that they should be honored,” he said.

Contact Adam Wright at 329-7151 or awright@chroniclet.com.