BARNESVILLE-"This is America. This is the spirit of entrepreneurship," says Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine referring to Dickinson Cattle Company outside of Barnesville, a family-owned and operated business that makes the most of its longhorn cattle product.
Winding up a three-day tour of Ohio River counties, DeWine visited Dickinson's Friday morning to find out more about the business and hear concerns from the agricultural community.
For Darol Dickinson and Harrison County rancher James Coffelt one of the main issues is skyrocketing property taxes and how properties like theirs are assessed.
OHIO?ATTORNEY?General Mike DeWine, right, paid a visit to Dickinson Cattle Company in Barnesville, owned by Darol Dickinson, left.
According to Dickinson and Coffelt, the State of Ohio has one blanket tax rate for agricultural land whether it is used for crop production or grazing. There is a vast difference in end income yield for these uses.
The current tax rate is based on corn production in western Ohio at $10,000 per acre. Dickinson runs fewer than 1,000 head of cattle on just under 5,000 acres of reclaimed strip mine land that has use restrictions. Coffelt runs about 600 head of black and red Angus beef cattle on 4,600 reclaimed acres. Their income per acre is a fraction of $10,000, yet Dickinson says his taxes have more than doubled from $7,300 with the agricultural exemption (for food production) to $15,800 for the same property. In addition, DCC owns the public access road winding through the ranch on which taxes have been climbing over the past year.
"I haven't been able to find out who is responsible for these increases," Dickinson adds. "The county says they have no control over the State assessments. The State puts it back on county levies and millage."
Coffelt noted that more acreage is being used for recreational purposes and bringing in income, yet the tax increases are targeting the agricultural industry. He also told DeWine about a hitch in the local recording system that is out of compliance with State statutes and that he believes is deterring new and expanding businesses in Harrison County.
"My business isn't dependent on the government-EPA, licensing and such-and I intend to avoid any business that is," adds Coffelt. "Those regulations can change on a whim, and I have to keep my business going. When I get up in the morning I have cows to run and fences to build."
Dickinson brings up another point about State assistance and the push for tourism. "We're not just selling beef. We've added ranch tours, a retail store and educational programs," he says. "The State tourism department invited us to put information at the rest stops on the interstates. We were providing 5,000 rack cards a year, and people would come here with those cards in their hands. Last year the tourism office called to say they were closing the rest stop information booths. So we went from the State assisting us in keeping visitors in our county in Ohio and supporting local businesses to having to pay a company from Cleveland $1,200 a year to put cards in the rest stop displays."
DeWine, who grew up in his family's agricultural business, says visits like this help him present "the bigger picture" to Columbus lawmakers.
"I take these trips periodically to exchange ideas. As Attorney General, my main concern is protecting Ohio families," he explains. "We need to use common sense in applying the laws and make sure that bureaucracy isn't impairing business development and job growth."
Other tour stops from Cincinnati to Barnesville focused on law enforcement issues and the new training simulator programs available to police officers, for both driving and weapon use scenarios. The top concern in the law enforcement realm is what DeWine calls a "drug epidemic" with heroin and prescription drugs in every county, but adds that the communities have to acknowledge the problem and step up to address it in partnership with law enforcement.
Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.