Ohio News Media Association

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01/05/2018

Bill introduced to limit delinquent tax notices

By Dennis Hetzel, President and Executive Director

As expected, Rep. Scott Lipps, a Republican from Warren County, has introduced a bill that removes one of the two print publication requirements from the law for delinquent tax notices.

Specifically, House Bill 458 – co-sponsored by Rep. Scott Ryan, R-Granville – would allow local officials to divert the second notice to a local government website instead of publishing it in the newspaper. While we appreciate Rep. Lipps’ response to our feedback – the initial draft made both notices optional in print -- this may be a bill in which our member publishers will need to be involved.

We have stated repeatedly that bills that place notices only on government websites that few would ever find, let alone see, are bills we oppose. We also agreed to language as recently as 2011 to save taxpayer dollars with the tax notices. The impetus for the bill comes from some local government officials who are concerned about saving taxpayer dollars while being skeptical of the value of the notices.

So, it’s a good time to talk to your state legislators, especially House members, about the importance of public notices. Personal meetings and phone calls always are superior to email. If you need talking points, or any information to contact legislators, just let us know. (See below.)

We also have ads available to promote the publication of delinquent tax lists, which you can find in the link in this article.  This is a win-win. We know that not only do these lists prompt taxpayers to settle their debts – as documented by a number of our publishers – the lists also drive newspaper readership.

Don’t forget your local officials either. Bills such as this are reminders to audit public notice practices to make sure everything is being done correctly, and your government advertisers are satisfied. One of our best-read Bulletin items in the past year was this column that offered five “best practice” tips for public notices.

We are developing a number of educational pieces for our members to use with legislators regarding public notices. The following is a draft of what we will be sharing with legislators in terms of our overall policy on public notices. There are some good talking points in here, so use as you see fit!

PUBLIC NOTICES BELONG IN NEWSPAPERS

Public (legal) notices in newspapers remain the best and most appropriate vehicle for governments to provide notices – a position that research continues to support. Citizens want and expect notices in newspapers and believe this is a very-appropriate expenditure of funds.

The ONMA is sensitive to the need for governmental bodies to manage expenses while carrying out statutory obligations to inform the public. (Indeed, ONMA members have written many editorials supporting adequate funding for local government.) We have both proposed and supported successful new laws to ensure fair advertising rates and address the changes brought by the digital age. We support access to public notices across the digital platforms that citizens regularly view – local newspaper websites and the statewide site, PublicNoticesOhio.com, which ONMA maintains at no cost to any Ohio taxpayer. We pledge to continue to work with local government officials to help them inform citizens and receive high value for their advertising.

We strongly oppose moving public notices exclusively to thousands of government websites that few would ever see. This defeats the purpose of public notices. The best way to understand this is to note the differences between consuming print and digital content. In a newspaper, there is as process of discovery as you thumb through the paper, including the public notices. (“Oh, I didn’t know the school district was having a special meeting.”) Digital behavior tends to be highly targeted.

The digital divide remains real as recent research demonstrates, especially in terms of access to information for thousands of lower-income and rural citizens of Ohio.  Many local government sites are ill-equipped to fulfill notice requirements and provide adequate security and verification of publication.

Ohio’s newspapers continue to be the best and more appropriate vehicle for notices.

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