September 1, 2014

Elyria
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Betleski approves CRA fee refunds

ELYRIA – Lorain County Auditor Mark Stewart and Lorain Mayor Tony Krasienko said Friday they are pleased county Common Pleas Court Judge Mark Betleski approved an agreement they hope will resolve a long-running dispute over controversial tax abatements in Lorain.

“We’re extremely happy here,” Stewart said. “I was with the mayor of Lorain when we heard about it and we shook hands. I thanked him for being a gentleman and I said, ‘Let’s move on.’ … I’m on cloud nine that we finally got this thing completed.”

The agreement stipulates the refund of $4,000 CRA application fees and only homes built after April 18, 2006, will qualify for the        15-year, 100-percent property tax abatement. Anything built between 2000 and April 18, 2006, gets only one year of the tax break.

In 2006, the City Council voted to give a 15-year,         100-percent tax abatement to homes in the city’s five community reinvestment areas – formed in the 1980s to spur development – that had been built from 2000 onward.

Stewart balked at the retroactive component of the deal and has fought the move legally ever since. He also said the tax abatements would unfairly raise taxes on other residents.

Council approved the settlement earlier this month and set the percentage and duration of the tax abatements.

The agreement, now approved by a judge, ends more than two years of legal wrangling between Stewart and Lorain officials.

Lorain Mayor Tony Krasienko is glad to see that part of the issue concluded.

“I’m pleased to put this behind us,” he said. “We worked hard to get this resolved – it’s unfortunate that it took the bulk of my first two years in office. I’m confident we can administer a legal CRA program according to state law.”

Temporarily complicating things is Krasienko’s unintentional veto of legislation affecting two westside CRAs that would have been given the full abatement along with the three downtown CRAs. Council is expected to reintroduce the legislation that already passed once, officials have said.

But not everyone was pleased Friday.

Matthew Barrett, an attorney representing Amherst resident Chuck Winiarski, said if the two westside CRAs are reaffirmed with a             15-year, 100-percent tax abatement and if Amherst residents continue to be taxed to make up the loss of income to Amherst Schools, a class action lawsuit against Lorain is possible.

“The way the abatements were applied in the past, the rest of the Amherst school district – the city of Amherst, Amherst Township and parts of Elyria Township – have to pay the abatement that Lorain City Council passed. We don’t get a voice on Lorain City Council,” Barrett said. “Our argument is Ohio law says Mark Stewart has to apply that money loss across the district. We claim that district is tax district 43 and not the entire Amherst school district because the Ohio Revised Code says that a taxing jurisdiction and abating authority ends at its boundaries. … If Lorain Council abates a tax, then Lorain residents have to make up the tax.”

The folks in Amherst Township are not only considering a class-action lawsuit but also are considering steps to get themselves annexed by Amherst, Barrett said.

“The more Lorain keeps ignoring their neighbors, the neighbors are going to have to decide if they’re going to keep putting up with it or do something about it,” Barrett said.

Krasienko acknowledged that other residents are affected by the CRA abatement.

“We appreciate and understand the concerns of our surrounding communities, but the needs of Lorain and our citizens have to be first on our agenda.”

Contact Alicia Castelli at 329-7144 or acastelli@chroniclet.com.