Your New Sidewalk: Who Pays?
Ohio municipalities have the power to levy charges known as “special assessments” against properties. These assessments – which are distinct from property taxes – are used for a variety of purposes, including building sidewalks, removing snow, planting shade trees, and laying water pipes.
The process begins when a city, either by its own determination or a citizen petition, passes a resolution of necessity declaring the need for the improvement. The city must also determine the cost of the improvement, and the amount of each special assessment can be calculated in one of three ways:
By a percentage of the tax value of the property assessed;
In proportion to the benefits that may result from the improvement;
By the front foot of the property bounding and abutting upon the improvement.
According to Ohio law, special assessments must be limited to the special benefits conferred upon the property. The cost of the assessment cannot outweigh the benefit to the property. For example, when a proposed sidewalk would harm a property’s value by destroying shrubs and eliminating the home’s privacy, the special assessment was declared unlawful. (Martino v. City of Sidney, 140 Ohio App. 3d 340 (2000)).
If a property owner objects to the assessment, he must act quickly – an objection must be filed with the city clerk’s office within two weeks of notice of the resolution’s passage. As illustrated by this recent example from Cleveland Heights, objections are heard by a equalization assessment board, which then makes a recommendation to the city council. After all objections are resolved, the city council passes a final resolution to move forward with the project.
The final assessment will be added to the real property tax bill. In most cases, a special assessment may be paid at once or over a period of years – however, assessments not paid at once may be subject to interest.