Sunday, October 31, 2004

Property value, tax soar


Bills leave some Newport owners reeling

By Mike Rutledge
Enquirer staff writer

There's a downside to Newport's soaring housing market: Property tax bills have ballooned along with property values.

Some homes in the city's northern areas, especially near Newport on the Levee and Hofbrauhaus beer garden, have more than doubled in value from the county's estimate they were assigned last year.

One very hot area is the East Row Historic District, a seven-block rectangle valued for the quality and variety of its residential architecture. Homes here were built in waves from the late 1800s to the 1930s, so each tree-lined block features the dominant style of its time, including Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Craftsman.

Once a magnet for Cincinnati's wealthiest citizens, including Kroger Co. founder Barney Kroger, the East Row fell into a genteel disrepair in the mid-1900s. Then, more than a decade ago, residents of Ohio and Kentucky began noticing its hidden charms.

Rehabilitation began in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the 2001 opening of the Levee entertainment complex accelerating the trend, said neighborhood resident and local preservationist Bob Yoder.

As a result, Newport property assessments for tax bills went way up this year. The new values stunned people like Tressa Downs, who has lived 54 years in the same 1.5-story brick house in the 500 block of East Second Street. She is still dizzy from opening the mail in April and seeing her home's estimated value had rocketed from $29,900 to $74,600.

"I thought, boy, they really put it to me," she said. "I called my nephew right away. Because he deals in property."

The pair in May persuaded Campbell County Property Valuation Administration officials the three-room house, built in 1900, wasn't worth quite that much because it lacked air conditioning and still had its original windows. More importantly, roof leaks had ruined the long-abandoned small upper level, eliminating it as living space.

The newest value is $63,600, still more than double the value the county had it listed at from 1998 through last year.

"Newport, you just look at what it's boomed in like the last three years, and it's been insane," said Campbell County PVA Daniel Braun, whose office is charged with assessing properties at their market value.

"A lot of that is because of the amount of growth Newport has gone through," Braun said. "They've gone through this beautification process down Monmouth Street and the Levee. In the past two or three years, Newport's done a lot of work on itself.

"That does help the market, because people are more willing to come to Newport now," he said. "It's not looked down on as it had been in the past decade or two. I live in Newport and I love it. It's a great place to live. You have pretty much everything you need inside your own city."

People think the higher values are great when they're about to put their houses up for sale. But then, there are the tax bills, even though Newport rolled back its property tax 17 percent, and the city's schools lowered theirs by 12 percent. When the city's total valuation climbs 30 percent, many people's taxes are going up.

"The way prices are today, it's worth that, but where is all this money coming from?" Downs said . "It's kind of hard on a retired person."

"This property is valued because of the Levee and everything else down there, so they're stickin' us with a lot of taxes," Downs said.

Other homeowners, like Jennifer and Mike Hronek of Monroe Street, see the reassessments as further proof that their home is a good investment. Their 1887 brick house at 805 Monroe, which they are restoring, had been valued at $88,500 since the county last assessed its value in 2000. Its new value is estimated to be $124,900.

Not bad for a building that the county valued at $44,200 in 1998, before she bought it.

"I'm not too concerned about it," Jennifer Hronek said. "I think the increase in the property value is actually a good thing."

In fact, she believes many properties, including her own, still are undervalued: "So I think we might see more hikes, and that's what kind of concerns me."

Because properties are assessed on a four-year cycle, most Newport properties won't see their values climb for four years, unless they are sold or owners make major improvements, Braun said.

This year, county assessors are evaluating properties in Melbourne, Silver Grove and incorporated areas of the county. Those changes will be reflected on tax bills sent out next October.

A year later, they will be in Southgate, Woodlawn and Fort Thomas. The next year, they will be in Cold Spring, Alexandria and Highland Heights, before returning the following year to Newport, Bellevue and Dayton.

Braun says two other factors drove up Newport's values: Low interest rates have made it possible for people to afford larger mortgages, so they are more willing to pay more. Also, some properties, like Downs', had kept the same value since 1998, which he contends were undervalued.

Yoder said one neighbor whose property value doubled told him: "It stinks, but I wouldn't sell my home for that much."

E-mail mrutledge@enquirer.com




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