PHOTO BY MICHAEL OAKAR
August 28, 2018, Citizens United for Fairness Community Meeting, Franklin Circle Church, 1688 Fulton Road: Cuyahoga County Fiscal Officer Dennis Kennedy responds to concerns from residents about the 2018 Proposed Value Notices they received concerning their properties.
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, September 2018) Organizers of a group calling itself Citizens United for Fairness (CUFF) brought Cuyahoga County officials to Franklin Circle Church on August 28thto hear residents’ concerns about property appraisals many said had increased over their last appraisal by unreasonably high percentages.
Ohio City resident Mary Rose Oakar, one of the organizers of the event, served as Master of Ceremonies, as one person after another brought their concerns before the county officials.
Cuyahoga County Chief Fiscal Officer Dennis Kennedy and Cuyahoga County Director of Appraisals Dan Harbaugh explained the appraisal process and then listened as residents lined up to tell them how unfair the appraisal was on their properties.
Responding to a contention by County officials that most of the complaints were from the suburbs and only a few hundred parcels in Cleveland were in dispute, Oakar said if you believed that, “you are dead wrong.” She noted the filled gym at Franklin Circle and said with more time to organize, a much larger venue would have been needed. Oakar said, “This is a big issue. It is not just a couple hundred here and there.”
After a good deal of heated testimony from residents, Oakar asked Fiscal Officer Kennedy to pledge to ask Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish for an extension on the amount of time people have to dispute the proposed value of their homes. She said, “You will see a revolution if you don’t do something about this.”
Oakar also asked that meetings to allow residents to dispute their property valuations be held in the neighborhoods rather than just at Cuyahoga Community College campuses. Kennedy promised to bring both of these requests to Cuyahoga County Executive Budish on the day following the meeting (Wednesday, August 29th).
Fiscal Officer Kennedy said, “Our goal is to get this right. We will listen to anyone who has a concern.” Kennedy said he would bring the requests from Oakar to Budish, but he cautioned that any delay may mean tax bills would be sent out late or would have to be revised at a later date.
Director of the Appraisal Department Dan Harbaugh explained the appraisal process. He said a mass appraisal is done every 3 years. The mass appraisal is based on 3,600 market areas in Cuyahoga County based on areas with similar housing stock, and noticeable and man-made boundaries.
He said that every six years, the county is required to do a reappraisal of individual properties, which is what is a happening now. He said the process takes about a year and a half and involves hiring an additional 40 appraisers. He said three factors are looked at–cost, sales and multiple regression analysis. He said the cost is table driven using Marshall Swift Cost Tables. The sales look at three to five homes comparable to yours for sales prices. The multiple regression analysis looks at the overall housing market seeking a uniform and equitable value.
Residents presented many concerns. One resident said the value of her home increased by 81% from $100,000 to $181,000. She called Cuyahoga County to get the comparable houses and the appraiser notes they used to determine her house’s value. She said she found that the appraisers, instead of finding homes similar to hers, increased the number of bedrooms she had from 2 to 3, and justified the increased home value by increasing the square footage listed in her home to match larger homes in the neighborhood.
A man said he moved to the neighborhood from Lorain County and purchased a home that needed a lot of work. He said 25 months ago he had a ruling from the Board of Revision on the tax value. Now, the tax valuation is 85% hirer than that ruling. He said he has not had the resources to make many improvements to the property in the mean-time. He said if Cuyahoga County wants to buy back his home for the newly appraised value, he would gladly sell it to them and move back to Lorain County.
A woman said her home is identical to a home two doors away with the exception that she doesn’t have a garage. She said the neighbor’s home with a garage was appraised and increased in value to $71,900 and hers was appraised at $107,000, a 200% increase from the last appraisal three years ago. The woman said she was retired on fixed income. “Are you trying to push me out of my home? Don’t tell me what you do doesn’t impact taxes I pay.”
A number of people reported believing they had to have an appraisal done to challenge the County’s appraisal. They complained that they are being asked to get an appraisal they can’t afford to fix mistakes made by the county.
One resident said their home increased by 35% in value while a home across the street went up by only 1%. They said that requiring an appraisal they couldn’t afford, tied their hands in challenging the proposed value of their home.
Director of Appraisals Dan Harbaugh said the five types of items listed in the Proposed Value Notice that residents received, that included an appraisal, were not the only evidence residents could present to make their case.
An attorney in the audience disputed that contention saying that to successfully challenge the appraisal, residents would need their own appraisal which he said would cost about $400. He said the next phase of challenging the appraisal was the Board of Revision which, he said, was simply a rubber stamp for the County. The lawyer said a class action lawsuit would be the only way to successfully challenge the appraisals.
Harbaugh said Tremont, Ohio City and Detroit Shoreway were hot neighborhoods with current values significantly lower than they should be. He said, “Values are up because people want to live in these neighborhoods.”
Mary Rose Oakar responded saying those neighborhoods have a 32% poverty rate and people living in the neighborhoods were not the richest people.
Nelson Cintron noted that the proposed value notices for properties were sent out only in English. Kennedy responded saying translators were available at the Tri-C meetings and at Cuyahoga County offices if needed.
Cintron noted that people buy their houses based on income. He said when taxes go up, house payments go up and insurance costs increase. “We are going to lose our homes,” he said.
Cintron also urged State representatives, Cuyahoga County Council and Cleveland City Council to address a loophole pointed out in a Plain Dealerarticle that allowed LLC’s to avoid listing the true sales value of a property and to address tax abatements. Practices he said that must be changed.
Henry Senyak, representing members of the Lincoln Heights Block Club which, he said, was located in what was the South Side and now is called part of the Tremont neighborhood. Senyak said the area his block club residents live in, is not a wealthy part of Tremont. He said the residents are the working class and the working poor. He noted large increases in home valuations including one on W. 18thstreet that increased from $14,000 to $81,000. Senyak said people who have been in family homes for more than 50 or 60 years are being put in a situation where they will not be able to afford their property taxes. He called what is happening in his neighborhood “systemic gentrification.”
Senyak presented a petition to County officials with 170 signatures, mostly from Tremont (South Side) residents, asking for an extension of the time to dispute the proposed value of properties until September 30th.
Senyak said 85% of those signing the petition also checked a box on the bottom calling for a review of the City of Cleveland’s property tax abatement policy. Senyak told the Plain Pressthat tax abated properties are being used to compare to existing neighborhood homes for purposes of tax valuation. At the meeting, Appraisal Department Director Harbaugh denied this was happening.
A number of resources were made available by meeting organizers or county officials attending the meeting. Meeting organizers said home owners wishing to see what properties Cuyahoga County compared their house to when making the appraisal can call Diane Gottchalk at the Appraisal Department at 216-443-4663 to have this information emailed or mailed to them.
Cuyahoga County Fiscal Officer Dennis Kennedy, whose position replaces the County Auditor, Recorder and Treasurer, offered his phone number to residents: 216-443-8173. His office is in the Cuyahoga County headquarters at E. 9thand Prospect.
A Cuyahoga County staff member outlined qualifications for the Homestead Exemption—a program that offers a reduced property tax to qualified individuals. The staff member said the Homestead Exemption program was age and income based. The program was open to individuals age 65 or more and disabled individuals whose income was $32,200 or less per year. Under the program the first $25,000 in value of your house would be exempt from property tax. The value above that amount would be taxed.
Another program, a Homestead Exemption for 100% Disabled Veterans, exempts the first $50,000 in property from taxes. There is no income verification required for the program for veterans.
Individuals wishing to fill out applications for a Homestead Exemption can go to the 2ndFloor of the Cuyahoga County Headquarters at E. 9thand Prospect to fill out a form. The Cuyahoga County employee said to bring information to verify your income and a staff member can help fill out the application. Taxes can be adjusted going back one year, she said.