Problem in Need of a Legislative Solution: The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) covers part or all of 18 counties. MWCD prepared a budget and plan of taxation two years ago that unveiled administrative practices and taxation policies that are out of control.
House Bill 47:
* changes the governance structure in the MWCD by eliminating the use of common pleas judges and establishes a different structure for the board of directors
* enhances oversight, accountability, and transparency to the public
* prohibits the levying of an assessment by the MWCD on property that is not directly benefited from the assessed project
* prohibits the MWCD from assessing property that is otherwise exempt from taxation (i.e. churches, church camps, other nonprofits, schools, local government jurisdictions HB 47 protects churches (and other ministries) and reigns in an out of control bureaucracy.
House Bill 123:
* prohibits any conservancy district from the levying of an assessment on land that is owned by a church or on which a church operates a camp
Both bills correctly seek to preserve a strong historical protection of churches from intrusive governmental authority. HB47 however, addresses the cause of the problem as well as the symptoms and is the proper approach to improving public policy for the broader community. It would be a mistake to support the narrow approach of HB123.
The method used to apportion the assessment to various property owners was done without relation to the benefit each property owner would receive. Some churches and nonprofits would be taxed hundreds or thousands of dollars each year, while others would be expected to pay as little as $12. For churches, any amount of taxation violates the principle of exemption. For others (residents, business owners, and other nonprofits), these proposed unvoted taxes offer no public accountability.
Especially troubling is the concept of taxing property for projects that haven't been proposed, let alone completed. The budget proposed by the MWCD for $270 million over 20 years offers no specific details for projects. This tax first, build later approach violates the statutes under which the MWCD operates.
All of this controversy unveiled an even deeper problem: the oversight of MWCD by the Conservancy Court, comprised of one common pleas judge from each county in the district. This archaic process violates the principle of separation of powers. Judges are not supposed to be administrators of public policy. This collection of judges is required to oversee administrative practices, approve the assessment methods, adjudicate appeals, etc. These are legislative, executive, and judicial functions all rolled into one body. This is the bigger problem.