Thursday, August 02, 2001

W. Woods schools lose in tax spat

Revaluation of building leaves district with less money

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        FOREST PARK — The Winton Woods Board of Education will have fewer dollars to spend this school year than planned.

        That's following a decision by the Hamilton County Board of Revisions to reduce the taxable value of Union Central Life Insurance's Waycross Road headquarters by $3 million.

        Early last year, the insurance company filed an appeal of its 1999 tax valuation that set the property's worth, including the company's headquarters, at $26 million. Union Central contended the value of the property should be set at $19 million, largely due to depreciation of the more than 30-year-old building. The school board disagreed.

        Wednesday, the three-member revisions board set the property value at $23 million, lower than the $25.5 million recommended by staff, said Marlene McDaniel, director of real estate for the Hamilton County Auditor's Office.

        Lowering the property's valuation means Union Central will pay $42,500 less each year and the schools will have to refund $85,000 the insurance company paid on the higher valuation for tax years 1999 and 2000, said Elana Cropper, treasurer of the Winton Woods Schools. The money will be deducted from taxes the school district receives next February, Ms. Cropper said.

        “We have to give back money that's already spent, which is disappointing,” said John Pennycuff, a member of the Winton Woods Board of Education.

        “We have a fiduciary responsibility to our policyholders to pay all our fair taxes, but not more,” said David Westerbeck, who is Union Central's executive vice president, general counsel and secretary. “We're interested in a fair resolution for all parties. We think their (revision board) decision was a measured one, a fair one. We are pleased that due process of law continues.”

        Mr. Pennycuff described as disappointing the company's decision to proceed with the revision hearing after the school board gave its support last year to the formation of a tax increment financing (TIF) district for the Carillon Business Park. Union Central is developing the park with Cincinnati United Contractors on 123 acres it owns behind corporate headquarters. The TIF agreement is for 100 percent of property for 20 years on new construction. The money will pay for road construction and other public improvements.

        “We went out on a limb to consider their plea for a TIF,” Mr. Pennycuff said. “Now the limb has been cut off.”

        Not so, Mr. Westerbeck said. Once that project is finished in the next five to seven years, the school district's tax base will increase by more than the $3 million valuation reduction, he said.


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