BATH TOWNSHIP – The Greene County Board of Revision has reached a decision regarding a complaint against the tax valuation of a Bath Township parcel that houses a biodigester facility.
The board recently held a hearing at the Greene County Auditor’s Office after township resident Kassie Lester filed the complaint earlier this year. In her complaint, Lester asserted that the 14.737-acre parcel, which is owned by Pitstick Renewable Energy LLC and located at 1156 Herr Road, was not entitled to the tax benefits of the state’s Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) program because a portion of the land had been leased to Dovetail Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Renergy, Inc. Lester requested that the board change the classification of the property from agricultural to industrial, and revoke the CAUV tax benefit.
The CAUV program, which was developed by the Ohio Legislature in 1973, allows farmland devoted exclusively to commercial agriculture to be valued according to its current use rather than at its highest and best potential use. Allowing these values to be set well below true market values has resulted in a substantially reduced property tax bill for working farmers.
Kerry Boyle, the attorney for Tom Pitstick and Pitstick Renewable Energy LLC, requested that the complaint be dismissed for a number of reasons, such as the form not being notarized.
Boyle also maintained that Lester did not have standing to challenge CAUV under Ohio Revised Code 5715.19(A)(1)(b) and (A)(1)(e). In response, the board determined that Ohio Revised Code 5715.19 provides specific authority to challenge determinations made by the county auditor with respect to the proper classification of a property and a determination related to its eligibility for CAUV.
The board addressed the question of whether an individual, who is acquiring the property through a land contract, such as Lester, is considered a landowner. Ohio Revised Code 5713.30(D) specifies that an individual in a land installment contract is included in the definition of “the owner of land”.
Richard C. Sahli, an attorney representing Lester, said the Pitstick land should not qualify for CAUV under Ohio Revised Code 5713.30(A)(1)(b) since less than 50 percent of the feedstock, used in the production of biologically derived methane gas at the biodigester facility, was derived from parcels of land under common ownership or leasehold. A number of documents were presented supporting Lester’s claim that most of the materials being used at the facility was human or food waste.
Pitstick’s attorney objected to the evidence as hearsay, since no one who compiled the information was available to testify. One of the documents presented was distributed by Renergy Inc. who had a representative at the hearing. The representative left the room before any questions could be asked to authenticate the document being distributed. Several documents were public records from state agencies that the board found to be credible.
Based on the evidence presented, the board determined that less than 50 percent of the materials used in the production of energy at the biodigester facility came from parcels under common ownership. Therefore the parcel does not qualify for CAUV under Ohio Revised Code 5713.30(A)(1)(b).
The auditor also failed to include the value of the building on the parcel as part of the real estate. The board further determined that the tanks and lagoon used to process and store the materials at the biodigester facility are personal property not subject to real estate tax. Only the land and one building situated on the parcel are subject to property taxes.
The written decision also included the findings on the Dovetail Energy facility that the county auditor received from the Ohio Department of Taxation, along with the findings and recommendations from the Ohio Development Services Agency that pertained to the qualifications for taxable property exemptions under Ohio Revised Code 5709.211. Based on these recommendations, the building and any equipment are not subject to real property tax. However, the findings and recommendations do not deal with the exemption of land.
The board concluded that Ohio Revised Code, 5713.04 provides for a property which is subject to an exemption, to be split listed. Based on measurements from the Greene County Auditor’s Geographic Information System (GIS), 4.79 acres of the land is not being farmed. However, 9.947 acres is used for agricultural production.
The board also pointed out that Ohio Revised Code 5713.34(A)(3) prohibits recoupment charges from being placed on a parcel if the conversion from agricultural use is incidental to the construction or installation of an energy facility, as defined in Ohio Revised Code 5727.01.
Pitstick testified before the board that he and his wife owned both Pitstick Renewable Energy LLC and Pitstick Family Farms LLC. The board referred to the Ohio Supreme Court decision in the case of Maralgate L.L.C., Appellee, v. Greene County Board of Revision. The court ruled that for land to qualify for CAUV, it must have common ownership but does not have to bear the same name.
In conclusion, the Greene County Board of Revision ordered the auditor to include the building on the property as part of the real estate value for the parcel and to classify it as exempt. Of the 14.737 acres taxed, 9.947 acres qualifies for CAUV, and the remaining 4.79 acres that houses the biodigester facility will be taxed at its highest and best use.
Tom Pitstick stated that he respected the board’s decision. However, when asked if he would appeal the board’s decision, Pitstick said he had not yet decided.