Last summer I started to look carefully at the property tax records of the buildings in my neighborhood around Lytle Park. That’s when I started to notice how many tax exemptions the City of Cincinnati has granted new office towers since the 1980’s. Looking at the tax detail pages of these properties, I saw that 301 E. Fourth St., the Great American Tower, had a market value of over $234,000,000 and yet the semi-annual payment to Cincinnati Public Schools was only around $21,000 and according to my calculator I thought it should be closer to $1,000,000.
For 6 months I asked for clarification from anybody who had anything to do with the the building and the taxes it produces. I asked a variety of representatives of the Cincinnati Public Schools, the Port Authority, members of the staff of City Council representatives, professional journalists. And I wrote about the mystery of the missing money several times in cincyopolis blog posts. Nobody knew where to look. I was being annoying – but if we were to understand the actual impact – positive or negative – of Tax Increment Financing projects on our community, this was an important question.
But it wasn’t until Tom Stapleton (Senior Vice President of Eagle Realty) sat down with me and gave me an accounting in writing about the Great American Tower’s contractual obligations regarding property taxes and the Cincinnati Public Schools that I knew exactly what to ask for and where to look. Armed with that information, I knew how to word my public records request and copied Tom on my query.
Last week Kimberly H. DeWalt, Sr. Accountant with the Accounts and Audits division of the City of Cincinnati was kind enough to send me a complete record of all payments made to the Cincinnati Public Schools from Queen City Square. Here’s the paper trail.
But this is what citizens see if they check the tax detail link on the page devoted to that parcel, the only public records available on the Hamilton County Auditor’s website:
We see $21,023.81 every six months paid to Cincinnati Public Schools instead of the full $884,210.63 (payment for Queen City Square).
That’s bad advertising for Tax Increment Financing projects. That’s bad advertising for Western & Southern’s contribution to this community. On one of the biggest building projects this city has ever undertaken, it’s important to make sure the numbers accurately reflect the facts and notation needs to be added to the parcel to reflect the full amount.
This is a lot of money, Cincinnati. Next step: Let’s see if we can get a notation on the Hamilton County Auditor’s site as well as more complete information on the Port Authority project page. These are important records of why we made this investment as a community.
Besides, Western & Southern deserves credit where credit is due.