Richland County may be free to sell part of speedway – The Sheriff of Nottingham
MANSFIELD — The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Mansfield Motorsports Park’s appeal of the county tax foreclosure case on the racetrack and grandstand portion of the property appears to leave Richland County free to conduct a sheriff’s sale, county officials said.
The court announced its decision Wednesday morning. Two of the seven justices, Paul E. Pfeifer and Terrence O’Donnell, dissented.
With a majority of state’s highest court declining to hear an appeal by the track owner, “we could pursue sale of the property,” Assistant Prosecutor Steve Wildermuth said. “Then they can have races again at the speedway.”
Track owner Mike Dzurilla declined to comment. His attorney, Robert A. Franco, said he and his client will investigate taking legal issues further:
“I believe that Mansfield Motorsports Speedway’s constitutional rights have been violated. We will be investigating the possibility of a federal lawsuit for those claims,” the Mansfield attorney said.
“It is not surprising that Ohio Supreme Court declined jurisdiction to hear our appeal,” he said. “They only accept about 10 percent of the discretionary appeals that are filed. But I am very disappointed that we never got the court to decide the main issue in this case, whether the county had even levied a valid tax. As you know, the county assessed real estate taxes and the state assessed use tax on the same property. In the court of appeals case, which we lost in a 2-1 split decision, both the state and county admitted that ‘the imposition of both taxes cannot be correct.’ It is disheartening that the courts never gave us the opportunity to argue which one was correct before ordering the property to be sold,” he said.
Dzurilla built a spectacular facility, Franco said. “He brought a national audience to Mansfield, and he hosted several community and charitable events at the track. It is disappointing that the state and local governments have chosen to express their appreciation by levying such mutually exclusive taxes and not working with MMS to resolve the dispute, but instead by taking its property without even so much as a hearing on the issue.”
Wildermuth said the Supreme Court decision means a sheriff’s sale of the oval track and grandstand complex at Crall Road and Ohio 545 could take place within 60 days, but it most likely would take a little longer “because of the unique nature of the property.”
Mansfield Motorsports Park (initially called Mansfield Motorsports Speedway) opened in May 1999 on the site of the old Mansfield Raceway Park. Millions of dollars were invested in improvements to the site between 2001 and 2004.
The overall complex is divided into three portions. The portion owned by Mansfield Motorsports Speedway LLC., includes the banked oval track, grandstands, press boxes, concession stands and parking. Another 90 acres to the north, owned by Piper Road LLC, was planned as the future site of a dragstrip. The third portion, 2.8 acres purchased by Tatra Management Corp., includes a building near the track entrance Dzurilla used as office space and to build racecars.
Mike Dzurilla was agent or incorporator for all three business entities.
In 2010, Richland County Treasurer Bart Hamilton filed to foreclose on the racetrack for back taxes.
Mansfield Motorsports Speedway owes Richland County $308,827 in taxes, interest and penalties on the track and grandstand portion, Richland County delinquent tax collector Matt Finfgeld said.
“The meter has been running” on additional interest and penalties during the course of the appeal, Hamilton said.
For a time, delinquent taxes also were owed by the Piper Road and Tatra Management entities, but Dzurilla paid the county what it was owed, so the county dropped its efforts to foreclosure on those, Hamilton said. Those portions of the complex would not be included in a sheriff’s sale, he said.
MMS brought two appeals cases stemming from the foreclosure, the first time against the state tax commissioner. When that was not successful, a second appeal against the county auditor was filed.
Mansfield Motorsports Park has been inactive for the past couple of years. No major events were held there during the 2011 or 2012 seasons.
County officials said the fact that Dzurilla still owns two of the three portions of the complex, through Tatra Management and Piper Road LLC, raises questions about how the MMS portion could be sold:
“A buyer theoretically could operate the racetrack using solely the portion still under foreclosure,” Finfgeld said.
However, a buyer might decide to negotiate with Dzurilla for access to the two portions of the complex he still owns — either purchasing property or making arrangements under which Dzurilla retains a part-interest in the track, he said.
The treasurer’s office has had calls from potential buyers asking whether the county is still pursuing a sheriff’s sale, Finfgeld said.
“Different people have called and asked about it. Whoever shows up (to a sheriff’s sale), shows up,” Hamilton said.
County officials said they plan to publicize sale of the oval track and grandstand in trade publications, and possibly other publications specific to northern Ohio, to maximize the chance of finding serious bidders.
“I would like to see it get sold before we get out of this year,” Finfgeld said.
Though official sanctioning entities most likely have already put together race calendars for summer 2013, some activity might still take place at the track, if it is sold at sheriff’s in the next several months, Hamilton believes. “I would think the next year would be mostly local races. Or they might just put things back together at the track,” he said.