LISBON - The public is being warned about a group offering to help people fight increases in their property taxes they falsely claim will automatically result from signing an oil and gas lease.
"These people have gone to homes and told these people their taxes were going to go up because they signed a lease, and that is simply not true," said Columbiana County Auditor Nancy Milliken.
She issued a news release this week advising residents to be wary after her office began receiving calls from landowners in the Columbiana area who said they had been approached by a company offering its services in fighting the phantom property tax increase for $350.
Milliken said the only time a leased property's value will increase (which, in turn, generally raises property taxes) is if a well drilled on the property begins producing. At that point, the property will lose is agricultural (CAUV) tax break and be reclassified as commercial property for taxing purposes.
"The tax is only when production occurs. The property will go from CAUV to commercial because it is no longer being used for farming," she said. "They're being misleading in what they're telling people."
Milliken's warning is similar to the one she issued last fall when a company began approaching county property owners and telling them the auditor's office had made mistakes in determining their property valuations. The company urged them to appeal the valuation to the county board of revision and offered to represent them, for a fee, and guaranteed they would be able to get them a reduction.
She said property owners can contest property valuations for free by simply filling out a form requesting a hearing, and then showing up with some new information to support their claim.
"Very few people need an attorney (at these hearing), unless it involves a company or an LLC," Milliken said.
Officials became so concerned that Assistant County Prosecutor Tad Herold sent the company a cease-and-desist letter in November warning them about making false claims about alleged mistakes and other assertions that were misleading or untrue.
Officials said eight property owners that retained the services of the company that guaranteed them they would win had appeal hearings this week in which an attorney showed up to represent them. In other cases, the company sent a packet of information to the board but no attorney.
Milliken is concerned the company that was the subject of the cease-and-desist letter in November and the organization currently approaching residents claiming their property valuations on leased land will increase are one and the same.
"I don't know that we can say this is the same company because have no proof," she said. "We're just trying to look out for the taxpayers."