House Bill No. 59, the Ohio budget bill recently introduced in the General Assembly, proposes, among many other things, changes to the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals (BTA). If these changes to BTA rules and procedures are passed, the BTA will:
- Reinstate its now-defunct mediation program;
- Require the Tax Commissioner and County Boards of Revision to submit their records to the BTA electronically; and, perhaps most significantly,
- Establish a small claims division, which will hear cases in which the amount in controversy is low and the parties consent to have their case heard by the small claims division.
The BTA hears appeals from County Boards of Revision, the Tax Commissioner, municipal income tax boards of review and other boards that hear certain tax cases. For several years, the BTA has carried a heavy case load that resulted in a backlog of cases. The budget bill’s proposed changes intend to promote efficient processing of cases, and to shorten the time in which cases remain before the BTA.
The BTA previously conducted a mediation program, which brought parties together to discuss the settlement of tax appeals. The mediation program, eliminated as the result of earlier budget cuts, would be reinstated by the budget bill.
The entities from which appeals may be taken to the BTA, including County Boards of Revision and the Tax Commissioner, presently file a mélange of paper, electronic, analog and digital records of their proceedings with the BTA. This creates confusion, and sometimes results in inconsistent or incomplete records. The budget bill would require Boards of Revision and the Tax Commissioner to submit copies of their records from earlier proceedings electronically.
The BTA small claims division proposed by the budget bill would hear cases involving the valuation of property that is the primary residence of the owner, or in which the amount-in-controversy claimed by the taxpayer does not exceed $10,000. Any party could request that a case be reassigned to the BTA’s regular docket if the party does not wish to remain in the small claims division.
Additionally, the BTA could return cases that had been placed on the small claims docket to its regular docket if the cases involve novel matters of public interest or raise constitutional questions. Conversely, parties could jointly request that a case originally set for the BTA’s regular docket be heard by the small claims division.
Cases heard by the small claims division would enjoy more relaxed, informal review, including the possibility of telephonic hearings. Cases heard by the small claims division would not be subject to appeal. Parties would not need an attorney to proceed with appeals before the small claims division. Companies could present their appeals by having an owner or employee appear for the hearing, though a company’s non-attorney representative would not be permitted to cross-examine other parties’ witnesses or perform other “acts of advocacy.” Most important, decisions rendered by the small claims division could not be appealed and will not serve as precedent in other cases.
Overall, the budget bill’s changes seek to streamline and expedite the process by which a case is heard and decided by the BTA.