BY CINDY SCHROEDER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COVINGTON -- The actual value of land for a proposed Kenton County Jail rose from $26,500 to $530,000 during the past month, according to county records.
The value of the two parcels off Webster Road in Independence was set by the office of Kenton County Property Valuation Administrator Mark Vogt.
The county's highest-ranking executive and a deputy county official both said Mr. Vogt owns the property.
"Why would anybody raise the rate five, six, 10 times as much in a month's time? Is that an ordinary course of action?" Kenton County Judge-executive Rodney "Biz" Cain asked Friday.
Just a day earlier, Mr. Cain told reporters he had just discovered possible land speculation at one of several proposed sites for a county jail. Mr. Cain said he wanted the public to know about this so people would have confidence in any final decision.
On Friday morning, Mr. Vogt referred all questions about the property to his lawyer, Michael Sketch, who could not be reached for comment. Attempts were made later in the day to reach both Mr. Vogt and Mr. Sketch after questions were raised about the public records obtained by The Kentucky Enquirer.
On May 21, Deputy Judge-executive George Neack checked similar records on behalf of the Kenton Fiscal Court and found the 64-acre parcel at 5000 Webster Road was worth $19,200.
The records were checked on that date because the land was a prime contender, and the listed value of $19,200 was an important factor in its favor, Mr. Neack said.
Both Mr. Neack and Mr. Cain were surprised to learn Friday, from records obtained by The Enquirer, that the same parcel is now valued at $320,000.
Mr. Neack also checked an adjacent parcel, 42.6 acres at 4812 Webster Road, and found it listed at $7,300. By Friday, records showed the parcel listed at $210,000.
Public records do not clearly identify Mr. Vogt as the owner. But an attorney for a company buying both parcels of land said Mr. Vogt is the owner. And Mr. Neack said Mr. Vogt told him he bought one of the two parcels from the CSX Railroad in January but did not yet have the deed.
The company attorney, Dennis Williams, emphasized that the land deal reached the final stages before he knew anything about the proposed jail.
"We actually had that contract before Mr. Cain indicated so publicly that that was going to be his No. 1 jail site," said Mr. Williams, one of the investors in SSK Co. of Elsmere. Mr. Williams said the company wants to build an upscale manufactured-home community there.
"We've been talking to Mark (Vogt) for several months about trying to get an option or a contract on the property, because we thought it would be a good site to try to develop," Mr. Williams said.
Mr. Vogt told company officials in the final stages of negotiations that Kenton County was interested in the Webster Road property as a possible jail site, Mr. Williams said.
"We told Mark, "If you're worried that the county will take the property for more than what we agreed to pay you, then we'll split the difference above $600,000 with you,' " Mr. Williams said. "That was not a point that closed the deal. It was just a small issue. It does not indicate an attempt to speculate at the county's expense, and I'm a little upset that Biz (Cain) thinks so."