wtf? Hamilton County Auditor (9300 Shawnee Run, Indian Hill)


wtf? was originally designed as a series of posts dedicated to holding a spotlight on the mysterious and un-explainable decisions of the Hamilton County Board of Revision – but it turns out that the entire valuation process is mysterious and un-explainable.  wtf? is now about any and all things property-tax-related that make no sense whatsoever.

According to the Hamilton County Auditor’s records, this is the official image of John F. Barrett’s house in Indian Hill.  That’s right.  John F. Barrett, CEO and head honcho of one of the founding families of Western & Southern, a company with 4.8 billion in annual sales.

This picture does not match-up with the statistics in the listing that describe it as a 6,551 square foot,15-room home built in 1939 with 7 bedrooms, 6 fireplaces, 6 full baths, and one half bath sitting on a little less than 19 acres of prime land in the middle of Greater Cincinnati’s swankiest neighborhood. Nor does it match-up with the opinion of professional appraisers that value Mr. Barrett’s estate at $1,235,010. (Note: It would be worth over $2.6 million if not for the fact that it is valued on a CAUV basis:  Current Agricultural Use Value, a classification reserved for grain or general farms.)

The owner did challenge the valuation with the Board of Revision in 2001 when the appraised value was $2,145,900, asking for a reduction to $1,471,400.  However the Board took a stern stance and only brought it down to $1,475,000 –  almost a quarter of a million dollars MORE than it’s property-tax generating value to Hamilton County ever since it turned into a farming operation.

Yet the mysteries do not stop here.  Take a look at the “Value History” tab and there’s an entry dated 9/27/2011 that indicates “new construction full value” of $826,280 in improvements to the property.  This matches up with a little gossip I picked up from a classy friend of mine who moves in Indian Hill social circles.  You know how some people have guest houses?  Apparently Mr. Barrett has a guest mansion, complete with a garage that houses not just one, but two fully restored antique Rolls Royces in mint condition.

Maybe a peak at Google Maps will clarify some of these issues:

Screenshot 2014-12-01 07.36.06

If you pull this up on your own screen, you can clearly see the long driveway that connects two mansions and continues on to the pool house.  There is no other street or separate parcel in the vicinity that could account for the complete absence of the guest mansion for property tax purposes.   If crops are being grown here, Mr. Barrett was not out on his tractor when this satellite photo was taken.

Please also note the 70 acres of undeveloped property next door at 9420 Shawnee Run owned by Shawnee Farms LLC.  According to the Ohio Secretary of State business search, Shawnee Farms LLC is owned by John F. Barrett.  This property is also classified on a CAUV basis as a non-commercial timber operation, bringing the land value from over $4,000,000 to $371,000 for property tax purposes.

This is as wrong as anything I’ve ever seen in my life according to commonly accepted cultural values my parents taught me.  It isn’t a little off, a small oversight or difference of opinion, but outright deception.  Public officials we elect to act as fiduciaries for our community have to be complicit in this level of special treatment for the wealthiest among us. I don’t know what else to say – except wtf?  That our society has come to this level of confusion about what’s important in life and our responsibility to each other makes me want to cry.

Postscript from Facebook post:

  • A. Maris Bernard Hmmmm … Who actually is on the board of revisions? Friends of John?
  • Kathy Holwadel Representatives of Dusty Rhodes, Chris Monzel, and Robert Goering serve on the Board. But this goes beyond the Board of Revision. They are not responsible for classifying this property as farmland. This is an appraisal issue. That’s even scarier.
    More accurate photo of property found by a reader on the County Auditor’s site:
    more accurate

9 thoughts on “wtf? Hamilton County Auditor (9300 Shawnee Run, Indian Hill)

  1. CBauer

    I agree that its pretty silly that people get CAUV status for non-commerical timber operations, and also that people get CAUV for keeping horses. Horses are probably the silliest because though they were once used as farm animals before we had machinery, the vast majority of horses that live in Indian Hill are not used to pull a plow. They’re basically large dogs that people keep as pets or they may possibly show them as a hobby. But that doesn’t mean they should get tax cuts – there’s nothing agricultural about them. The timber thing I can understand a bit more – it is a natural resource that can be harvested a little bit at a time, so that’s certainly more farm like. The whole point behind CAUV is to encourage more farms. But people definitely use these two “operations” to get tax breaks in IH, and it’s not just public officials. It happens in Indian Hill because they allow and encourage agriculture – as they should on the vast, open lands of the area. That’s not true of many other communities in Hamilton County. The auditors are getting stricter, but who knows what kind of dealings go on behind closed doors. I suppose that could be true for anything though.

  2. Greg Amburgy

    As a real estate appraiser, I use the Hamilton County website nearly every day. This happens all the time. There’s no conspiracy here. Click on “image” and you will see the picture of the house as one of the other images listed for this property. You jumped the gun here lady. He’s still paying a hell of a lot of taxes.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      Sorry about the photo, Greg. But even if I did get the photo wrong – I’d still like a little more public conversation about the appropriate use of the agricultural designation – and if we still need it. I’m not an expert like you are – but it seems to me that it might have been put in place to help family farmers. I’d like to hear the logic of why the government is subsidizing both timber and agriculture at this point in our economic development, especially when it is not the primary source of income for a landowner.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      No, Fred. Every three years the Auditor’s office puts the appraisal process out to bid and an independent company does the job. The next big system-wide appraisal is in 2017 – and I hope we can move towards valuations with a clearer logic.

  3. Ross Compton

    The real house photo is on the auditors site and the property is assessed slightly higher than the independent appraisers estimate. Current Agricultural Use Values are a farce for such properties requiring only a pair of breeding livestock (horses, llamas, beehives etc.) be present. This is state law and should be changed with the revenue generated allocated to income tax reduction at the upper levels since our rates are overly punitive regarding those who actually produce. The timber LLC is may be dubious policy as are non- development liens granted groups like the Sierra club on such properties. This is however all legal. I have also found rich liberal hypocrites are particularly prone to such dodges.

  4. Pingback: Cincyopolis is my sandbox: The Rules | cincyopolis

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