Thursday, August 15, 2002

Trustees balk at barn buy as property taxes soar

By Jennifer Edwards,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WEST CHESTER TWP. — Trustees held off taking any action this week to spend $2.5 million to move and renovate the Muhlhauser Barn from Fairfield to Beckett Park.

        They want to make sure the township has the money to pay for it and also want to see what pans out with the proposed community recreation center. Until they know they have money to do both projects, they agreed Tuesday not to move forward.

[photo] The 121-year-old Muhlhauser Barn on Seward Road in Fairfield
(Enquirer file photo)
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        “In a slow economy, we have to be very careful we don't overextend ourselves,” Trustee Catherine Stoker said. “Everybody is feeling the pinch. I have had an enormous number of calls from people whose home values are going up, and they are outraged.”

        Butler County homeowners have been experiencing sticker shock this summer as they receive their property reappraisals in the mail. The average residential property in the county rose in value by 16 percent from the previous assessment six years ago, according to the county auditor's office.

        In West Chester, the average residential property rose by 14 percent, according to the auditor's office, but some residents have told the Enquirer theirs are much higher than that.

        West Chester officials still are waiting to see how much property values rose in the Union Centre Boulevard tax increment financing district.

        By September, the township should learn how much the $32 million community recreation center would cost to build and operate.

        Tri-Health Corporate Health Services is paying for and conducting a feasibility study and financial analysis on the center. The company also is completing the design, construction and programming schedule.

        If those details meet trustees' approval, the township will formally enter into a partnership with the health care provider and announce a groundbreaking for the 180,000-square-foot facility, said Judith Carter, the township's assistant administrator.

        The community recreation center most likely would rise on 16 acres along West Chester Road at Union Centre Boulevard across from Lakota West High School. It would have outdoor and indoor pools, jogging tracks, basketball courts, workout and meeting rooms, and other amenities.

        The 121-year-old Muhlhauser Barn on Seward Road in Fairfield was built for the Muhlhauser-Windisch Brewing Co., one of the region's earliest breweries.

        The property's owners are donating it to the township to make way for development, and the township would like to renovate it into a community conference center.

        “It looks like it will be an excellent asset to the community, in particular to the businesses in our community who need a place to do retreats. It would be an ideal situation for them,” Ms. Stoker said.

        “But we won't do it if we can't afford to. It's really hard to justify buying a barn when people's taxes are going up, when you later find out you can't afford it and have to cut back on more elementary services,” she said. “We have a lot on our plate right now in the park services.”


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