Computer glitch taxes property owners at wrong rate

LISBON – A computer glitch resulted in an unknown number of property owners being taxed at the old CAUV rate.

Columbiana County Auditor Nancy Milliken said her staff discovered the problem last week and they have begun working to correct the mistakes and make the necessary property tax adjustments.

“We’re just trying to deal with it as quickly as we can and hope the farmers understand,” she said.

CAUV stands for Current Agricultural Use Valuation, which is a state program that reduces the taxable value of land used for agriculture-related purposes by assigning soil values to the parcels.

The Ohio Department of Taxation, working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, periodically updates the CAUV soil values, with the latest such update occurring last year and taking effect with the 2014 property tax bills. The new soil values increased by an average of 40 percent, raising property taxes for many people whose land was enrolled in the CAUV program, which is administered through the county auditor’s office.

Milliken said they have a computer program that was supposed to automatically update the CAUV to reflect the new soil values. After the first-half 2014 property tax bills were mailed out earlier this month, some residents began stopping in to check their property values, which is when the staff discovered the soil value changes had not been made.

“This was something we were not aware of until we had some farmers come in to check on their CAUV,” she said.

There are about 1,900 property owners enrolled in the CAUV program involving 4,454 parcels of land. Milliken’s staff has begun manually checking each of the parcels to determine if they were assigned the correct soil value, a process that is expected to take two to three months to complete.

CAUV corrections made over the next two weeks will be forwarded to the affected property owner in the form of a new amended first-half tax bill from the county treasurer’s office. Treasurer Linda Bolon said she purchased teal-colored bills specifically for this purpose so as to reduce any confusion with the original tax bills, which are another color. These property owners will be asked to pay the amended bill and disregard their original tax bill.

“We will send them out (amended tax bills) as quickly as the auditor’s office sends us the corrected information,” Bolon said.

“Our goal is to get as many out as we can,” Milliken added.

Those property owners enrolled in the CAUV program who do not receive an amended tax bill by Feb. 28 should go ahead and pay their original property tax bill, if they have not already. If there are any adjustments, they will be made with the second-half tax bills, which are usually mailed out in August.

Those who do receive an amended bill have until March 21 to pay without being assessed a late penalty. The payment deadline for everyone else remains the same, which is March 7.

While it is unknown at this point how many CAUVs may be incorrect, the staff believes at least half of the parcels are affected. The auditor’s office will issue a news release once all of the adjustments are completed so those enrolled in the CAUV program can check out the revised soil values for themselves on the office website.

Milliken said the change may result in an increase or decrease in CAUV soil values because her staff has found both during its initial reviews.

As for the problem, the auditor’s office is still trying to determine the cause, whether it was a computer glitch or due to something as minor as a power surge.

“We don’t even known when it happened,” said Wayne Wallace, the auditor’s office computer consultant.

Meanwhile, the auditor’s office is running advertisements in local newspapers to explain what has occurred.