To The Point Blog

Court denies joint vocational school district’s order to compel Ohio tax commissioner

Aug 22, 2017

Court denies joint vocational school district’s order to compel Ohio tax commissioner to apply reduction factors and to calculate certain tax rates.

In State ex rel. Delaware Joint Vocational School District Board of Education v. Testa, the Ohio Supreme Court recently denied a joint vocational school district’s writ of mandamus to compel an Ohio tax commissioner to apply reduction factors and to calculate certain tax rates. In its March 2017 decision, the court held that despite it being a ministerial duty, a tax commissioner did not have a clear legal duty to apply reduction factors and calculate tax rates where there was no documentation that the tax was authorized to be levied as required by Ohio law.

The Delaware Joint Vocational School District provides career and technical education for students living in Delaware County and portions of Franklin, Marion, Morrow, and Union Counties. Although the school board certified its renewal levy to the board of elections in Delaware County, the Delaware County Board of Elections did not send the resolution to the boards of elections in the other counties. As a result, the renewal levy did not appear on the November 2015 general election ballots of Franklin, Marion, Morrow, and Union Counties.

Because the Delaware County Board of Elections did not properly certify the election results in a multicounty election, the Ohio tax commissioner exercised his discretion in deciding not to include the levy on the list of tax rates certified for collection to the county auditors in Franklin, Marion, Morrow, and Union counties. This resulted in the levy being excluded on the property-tax bills sent to property owners in the school district for the first half of tax year 2016.

The school sought a writ of mandamus to force the tax commissioner to apply the reduction factors and calculate the tax rates for the levy by asserting that the certificate of election issued by the Delaware County Board of Elections was conclusive of the levy’s passage. The school also argued that the tax commissioner’s duty to apply reduction factors and calculate tax rates was a mandatory ministerial duty, and he did not have the discretionary power to decide not to apply those factors and tax rates.

The Ohio Supreme Court, however, disagreed with the school, concluding that the tax commissioner had no clear legal duty to apply the reduction factors and calculate the tax rates for this levy. The court supported its decision by reasoning that because the levy was never actually submitted to the electors in Franklin, Marion, Morrow, and Union Counties, and because the results of the election were never properly certified to the tax commissioner, the commissioner could not determine that the tax had been authorized to be levied as required by Ohio law. Thus, there had not been a valid election result for the levy.

Chief Justice O’Connor dissented, arguing that the tax commissioner had a clear legal duty to perform its ministerial duties of his office, and as such would have issued the writ to compel the commissioner’s compliance. The Chief Justice was also concerned with future election challenges in litigation the next time the tax commissioner exercises this discretion because the facts may be disputed and the governing law uncertain.

If you have questions concerning this ruling and how it affects your school district, please contact the Education Law Group at Day Ketterer.

The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice for any purpose. This blog is not intended to present an exhaustive summary of all applicable laws, or to take the place of legal advice.  If you have any questions regarding the law, please contact us for assistance.