Western & Southern, I found your money. (2nd edition)

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.

WSPaymentstoCincinnatiPublicSchools-page-001

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:

Screenshot 2015-04-28 at 12.46.43 AM

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.

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2 thoughts on “Western & Southern, I found your money. (2nd edition)

  1. Bill Collins

    As this article shows, perhaps the best part of the new development Downtown and OTR is the increased tax revenue that is generated by this development to support local public schools.

    Right now here at 7:35 AM I have to leave for work, so will keep this brief. But later today I’ll write to say more about this.

    Oddly enough, during the last 10-15 years, the local public school district (CPS) has been providing *less* in the way of quality public school choices for parents of elementary schools living in OTR and Downtown than the school district (Cincinnati Public) did 20 years ago in the 1990s. Now at the time when the population is growing again in OTR and Downtown, and when many, many more young couples of child-bearing age are wanting to make OTR and Downtown their permanent homes, the nearby quality public school choices for these parents and potential parents are less than they were 20 years ago when young couples of child-bearing ages were pouring *out* of these neighborhoods. Odd, isn’t it?

    Again, I’ll write more later, provide some data to support what I am saying, and propose some solutions. If we really want to “lock in” the progress being made in attracting more people, residents and economic activity to Downtown and OTR, we need to expand the range of quality, nearby integrated public schools. We can do that if we recognize the problem and then do something about it during the next 3-5 years.

    Reply
  2. executivedreamer Post author

    Love your focus and facts, Bill. Am thrilled to report Alex Kuhns (president of CPS board) contacted me about both of us meeting with their new CFO, Jennifer Wagner. Schools are an important development tool and we need to start to look at them that way. I’ve been particularly concerned because of the drop in property tax collection from commercial properties between 2002-2012. Maybe it was just a glitch that will self-correct. But we need to work together to make sure our public schools are getting the resources they need to do their very, very important job. Because nobody wants to live in a neighborhood with a crappy school.

    Reply

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