Coincidence or corruption? Mayor Greg Fischer, the PVA and Louisville’s disappearing tax dollars

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How do you make $150,000 of highly desirable Cherokee Triangle property vanish into thin air?  If you’re Tony Lindauer, you inflict a bureaucratic sleight of hand to three parcels of property just months after settling into your new job as the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator and you wait very p-a-t-i-e-n-t-l-y.

(If you don’t like math, skip ahead to the screenshot from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.)

Mr. Lindauer purchased three pieces of property on Everett Avenue in 2001.  He was elected as PVA in 2006 after being bankrolled by Louisville Democrats.  He took office in January 2007 overseeing an organization “that is responsible for applying a fair and equitable assessment to over 260,000 residential properties in Jefferson County as of January 1st of each year”.  In April 2007, Mr. Lindauer consolidated 1070, 1072 and 1074 Everett Avenue into a single address: 1072 Everett, one house on a spacious Cherokee Triangle lot.

It’s 2015.  The PVA has assessed a flat-rate land value of $75,000 for almost every lot (not including dwelling) on Mr. Lindauer’s street.  Exceptions are for properties that have been purchased in the past two years which is standard policy according to the PVA’s website. Lot valuations have soared to $1,000,000+ per acre for several of Mr. Lindauer’s neighbors while his hovers around $200,000 per acre.  Seems unfair at first glance but a little thing called “mass appraisals” are supposed to even things out.  Mass appraisals are used nationwide.  Mass appraisals are fair.  Mass appraisals are extremely accurate.  The math behind mass appraisals will generate a fair assessment of that big chunk of land in an urban neighborhood of tiny lots.

Let’s see about that.

In 2007, 1072 Everett was assessed at $234,050 without the two additional lots.  Lots were valued at $30K.

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In 2015, Everett Avenue lots are assessed at $75,000 each.  Refer to the diagram below which represents Mr. Lindauer’s consolidated properties.  If you mathematically peel off the value of the two lots, 1072 Everett as a stand-alone property is valued at $229,920.

1072 Everett is worth less today than it was 8 years ago.

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There’s a second way to look at this – this time using multiplication.

If the 2007 value of 1072 Everett as a stand-alone property increased by 60-80%, just like other recently assessed Highlands and Germantown properties,  the 2015 property value would be approximately $398,000.  (Let’s use an average of 60% and 80% which is 70%.  A seventy percent increase is expressed as: $234,050 x 1.70 = $397,885)

$397,885 is more than the 2015 value of the three consolidated lots which, AGAIN, shows that the $150,000 value of two lots has disappeared.

The property tax liability has also disappeared.  That’s approximately $1500 in annual property taxes that won’t end up with the biggest recipient of property tax revenue, Jefferson County Public Schools which was the employer of Mr. Lindauer’s wife before and after his election as Jefferson County PVA.  JCPS was also the full-time employer of another Lindauer family member that does not need to be mentioned by name here.  You can look her up on KREF.

Here are screenshots from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance website:

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Also from the KREF website:

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Enough about Everett Avenue.  You know what’s going on here.

This is the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator’s property at 1147 E. Kentucky St.  It’s defined as commercial property.

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Here we go again.

1147 E. Kentucky is one of the largest lots in the neighborhood, shaded in blue.  Surrounding properties are designated with red borders.

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According to the deed, this property is described as 1147-1149 E. Kentucky Street which is two buildings on one big lot.

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Nearby residential properties have been recently assessed with very, very steep increases in property values.  Not so for Mr. Lindauer’s property.  It’s May 2015 and his property’s value remains at the 2007 value from an assessment made over 8 years ago: $130,690.

PVA field inspectors are authorized by statute to inspect real property in Jefferson County (KRS 132.450 (1)).  The PVA is required by statute to inspect property at least once every 4 years (KRS 132.690 (1)). – Jefferson County PVA website, https://jeffersonpva.ky.gov/property-assessment/commercial-property/

How did the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator’s property slip under the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator’s radar?   Do tell.

Since 2001, the assessed value has increased by 21%.  That works out to 1.5% per year for 14 years.

Directly next door to Mr. Lindauer, 1145 E. Kentucky have been assessed at $141,620 which is a $59,370 increase or 72% since assessments in 2011 and 2006.  Since 2001, the property has increased by $72,540 which is 105% and exactly five times the percentage increase of Lindauer’s property.

FYI: According to KREF, neither of the property owners contributed to Mayor Fischer’s mayoral campaigns.

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Directly across the street from Mr. Lindauer’s property is 1146 E. Kentucky which includes one of the biggest lots in the neighborhood.  Assessed on 01/01/2015 at $236,410, that’s an 81% increase since 2001 or about 4 times the percentage increase of Mr. Lindauer’s property.

More FYI: According to KREF, neither member of the Alexander family contributed to Mayor Fischer’s mayoral campaigns.

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Lindauer owns two buildings on a double-lot valued at just $130,690.  $65K per property.  One of the cheapest properties on the block with the lowest percentage increases.  Sound familiar?

There’s more.

Mr. Lindauer’s property, 1149 East Kentucky, was used as the address for his company T & J Restoration, Remodel and Design, Inc.  T is for Tony, J is for James.  James C. Phillips, that is.

This is from the Kentucky Secretary of State:

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Here is Mr. James C. Phillips’s house near Seneca Park:

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This property qualifies for a $36,000 homestead exemption which translates into a $360+ annual property tax savings.  No problem there, standard PVA policy.  Mr. Phillips also received a Decrease by Computer Reassessment of $13,130 that will result in an additional annual property tax discount of more than $100.  The lot value increased to $80,000, just like neighboring lots, but the home’s value declined by $49,130 even though $127,980 improvements had been made just two years prior.

Why?  What happened?  Did a big chunk of the house go up in flames?  Did the garage collapse? Anything is possible.

A half-acre lot.  Adjacent to Seneca Park.  $127,980 in improvements.  According to Zillow, the property’s 2013 listing included these descriptions:  Superior location near Seneca Park walking track, tennis courts and playground. Close to schools and shops. This house has it all.”  Despite being a pretty house in an expensive neighborhood with location, location, location goodies, 702 Circle Hill Road has inexplicably declined in value.

703 Circle Hill increased in value from 2012 to 2015.  So, did 704 Circle Hill Road.  705 Circle Hill increased 49% from $175,200 (2012) to $260,430 (2015) in value with no sales and no improvements.  706 Circle Hill increased in value, too.  Mr. Phillips’s neighbors will pay higher property taxes while the former business partner of the Jefferson County PVA will pay less in 2015 than he did in 2013 despite $127,980 in improvements.

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Mr. Lindauer and Mr. Phillips aren’t the only ones with very interesting property valuations.  Let’s take a look at Mayor Greg Fischer’s neighbor who received an assessment decrease just like Mayor Fischer even though surrounding properties were recently assessed 30 to 60 percent higher.

If you read the first post, you will recognize some of the following information.  Just skip ahead a few paragraphs.

1711 Spring Drive is located next to 1715 Spring Drive, Mayor Fischer’s home, and was assessed $34,710 lower in 2015 than on July 2003.  Today it’s worth $710,290.  Twelve years ago, it was worth $745,000.  Mr. Ridley will save over $300 a year on property taxes.  $300 isn’t much to the owner of such a fine piece of property but it is a small fortune to many Jefferson County taxpayers — which is why this is worth discussing.

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KREF has this information about Mr. Ridley’s donations to his neighbor – $1000 is the maximum individual campaign contribution per election:

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Here is the assessment information for Mr. Ridley’s home which has lost 4.7% in value in 12 years.  Decrease by Computer Reassessment.

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Public records for the court case below shows two exes, Mr. Ridley and Ms. Sullivan, who was once on the 1711 Spring Drive deed, slugging it out over $250,000.  Public court records are embarrassing and divorces can get ugly but let’s be honest here.  A power couple like this doesn’t live in a place that declines in value. They live in a million-dollar house that steadily increases in value just like the rest of the nearby, spectacular properties on Spring Drive, Cherokee Parkway and Cherokee Terrace.

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That is Kathy Sullivan, the artist, whose oil paintings are displayed at Churchill Downs, Humana and Brown-Forman, whose work appeared on Woodford Reserve bottles in 2006, who is the sister of Jenny Sullivan Sanford who was a vice president of mergers and acquisitions at Lazard Frères & Co., who is the former sister-in-law of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, who is an heiress to a Skil power tools fortune, who lives in Charleston and frequently visits the nearby island that bears her family’s name, Sullivan’s Island – and you better not monkey around with her fortune and get into a legal tangle with this woman because you’re going to get severely paddled.  And rightfully so.

And this is from an April 4, 2007, press release from Governor Ernie Fletcher’s office:

Governor Ernie Fletcher today announced the appointments of citizen members to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Employees Retirement Systems.  These appointments complete the membership of the commission, which was created by Executive Order in February 2007.  Gov. Fletcher has directed the commission to evaluate all aspects of the Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS), which includes state employees, state police and county employees, and the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS). 

The 24-member commission will study methods to address the current unfunded liabilities accrued by these individual retirement plans, including pension and health insurance benefits. Over the coming months, the commission will develop a plan to fulfill its retirement obligations to current retirees and employees while examining the appropriate level of benefits for future employees. The plan must be presented to the governor no later than Dec. 1, 2007.

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Governor Fletcher has also named eight citizen members to the commission with expertise in investments, fiduciary matters and business administration, including David Jones of Louisville, founder and former chairman of Humana, Inc. and John Hall of Lexington, former CEO of Ashland, Inc. Other citizen members are: David Dowell, Lexington, Russell Capital Management; Andrew Jacobs, Lexington, Stites & Harbison; Todd Lowe, Simpsonville, Parthenon LLC; James Parsons, Newport, Taft, Stettinius & Hollister; Shawn Ridley, Louisville, Atlas Brown; and Deborah Holland Tudor, Lexington, Frost, Brown Todd. The commission will be supported by independent experts and outside consultants.

Perhaps, that gives you a tiny glimpse of the social orbit of property owners like Mr. Ridley who will pay lower property taxes this year.

But wait.  There’s more.

According to the Kentucky Secretary of State’s files, Mr. Ridley and Mayor Fischer were business partners at Iceberg Ventures VIVAO, a vulture capital firm.

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Let’s see if anyone else at Iceberg Ventures ™ received a Decrease by Computer Reassessment.  According to Iceberg Venture’s ™ website, Mr. Williams is Mayor Fischer’s co-founder.

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Here is Mr. Williams’s $650,830 home on Avish Lane in Harrods Creek:

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And here is the assessment information for Mr. Williams’ property.  Decrease by Computer Reassessment.  That’s a $52,300 discount which translates into about $500 of disappearing annual property tax revenue

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The screenshot from KREF shows Mr. Williams was employed by Dant Clayton, yet another business venture with Greg Fischer.

There was a lot of action at Dant Clayton in 2011.  A seventeen-page unsigned merger document on the Kentucky Secretary of State’s website shows that Dant Clayton/Bruce Merrick paid $2,072,907.00 to Mayor Fischer through $25,000/month payments.  Mayor Fischer’s present or past or whatever business colleague, Mr. Williams, also appears on the paperwork because he was the president of the company.

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The merger happened about two months before the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Committee granted $1.19 million in tax incentives.  Mayor Fischer “recused” himself from the company before that bundle of tax dollars was handed over.

Click on the screenshot to read the story.

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That’s a lot of corporate welfare for a company that had revenues of $40 million in 2010.  They were approved to receive even more in 2012 and 2014.

There was a lot of financial activity at Dant Clayton in 2011, right up until the last day of the year, which returns our discussion to property taxes and assessments.

On December 31,2011, Dant Clayton sold 1500 Bernheim Lane for $2,538,000 to Mr. Merrick who had purchased the property from Dant Clayton in 1995 for $500,000.  It’s dizzying, really, to keep up with this merry-go-round of loans and sales and payment plans and legal documents and lower assessments.  The information/screenshots are below for this company that had financial ties to Mayor Fischer, which employed his former colleague from Iceberg Ventures and bCatalyst, which sits on a piece of property with an assessment that falls about $1,500,000 short of the sale price.  Yes, that’s right: ONE POINT FIVE MILLION DOLLARS.

The property is worth less today than 15 years ago.

That’s $15,000 in annual property tax revenue that disappeared.

Here, Dant sells to Merrick in 2011….

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Merrick sold to Dant in the 90s…
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Here are the 2014 property tax payments that the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office collected from Mr. Merrick’s Dant Clayton properties.  The taxable assessment totals $942,910, far short of the $2.5 million sale price.  The PVA website says sale prices are the assessed value for two years.

Just not this time.

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Maybe there was another tax incentive at work to discount the property taxes for a multi-million dollar business.  A feature story on U.S. Builders Review’s website explains that Dant-Clayton’s marketing strategy is to pursue contracts with elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools.  That’s education dollars, taxpayer money, property tax revenue.  There’s the $523,000 school stadium project that the Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education couldn’t figure out how to finance.  Or the bleachers replacement project at public school Ledyard High in Connecticut.

Minutes from the Ledyard Board of Education July 19, 2011 meeting:

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This is a company that profits from schools and property tax revenue yet avoids the tax liability on $1.5 million worth of property.  It’s outrageous.  Dant applied for a $1.5 million tax incentive for a $2.95 million addition to the Bernheim property in 1997.  What happened to the addition?  It doesn’t appear on the PVA’s public records.

From The Lane Report’s interview with Fischer on August 9, 2012: One-on-One: Greg Fischer

In 1999, he founded Iceberg Ventures, a private investment firm, and later was a co-founder of bCatalyst, the first business accelerator in Louisville. Fischer has been an active investor and board member in numerous companies across multiple industries. He is a former partner and former CEO of Dant Clayton Corp., which designs, manufactures and constructs sports stadiums around the country.

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Ed Lane, Publisher and Chief Executive of The Lane Report: Occupational and real estate taxes comprise about 80 percent of Louisville’s revenue. How have static housing values and high unemployment levels over the last three years impacted Louisville government’s revenue trends?

Greg Fischer: The stagnation in real estate prices obviously has been a significant issue. We’ve seen a very small growth in Louisville’s real estate tax base.

Occupational taxes had a nice rebound this past year. Corporate and net profit taxes have been hit by the recent economy. The tax base is growing, but it’s growing slower than the city’s expenses are increasing because of pension and healthcare costs.

Fischer is unhappy with static home values and the property tax revenue that goes along with them.  Yet, he had financial ties to a company that was contributing to the tax revenue “problem.”  Interesting how he failed to mention that part.

The Lane Report interview mentions bCatalyst which was founded by Fischer and Mr. Williams along with Doug Cobb and a few other local businessmen.  Did Mr. Cobb end up with a Decrease by Computer Reassessment like Fischer and Williams?  No, he did not.

In September 2014 Mr. Cobb, who was a Greater Louisville, Inc. president for a very short time, and his wife executed a quitclaim deed which declared the value of their June 2014 purchase of a $639,690 Norton Commons home at $343,190.  That’s a $296,500 difference that means $3100+ in annual savings on property taxes.  Here is a copy of the quitclaim deed that was available on the PVA website a few weeks ago and some other public records:

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Let’s get back to Mr. Williams’s Avish Lane property which he owned with his wife, Mary Rogers Brown Williams, prior to her passing. The Williams’ property is adjacent to the home of “Mac” Brown, vice-president of Brown-Forman and Mrs. Williams’ brother.  His property declined in value, too.

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And this:

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Boom.

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The property is described on the PVA website as “excellent for age” but the 2015 value is almost $200,000 lower than the 2007 assessment.  That means a $2000 annual property tax discount.

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The property next door at 2120 Cherokee Parkway increased from $577,020 in 2007 to $874,060 in 2015.  Last sold in 2002.  That’s a $297,040 increase or 51%.  The owners of this house contributed just $150 to Fischer’s 2010 campaign which doesn’t even pay for postage on one batch of over-sized, four-color postcards.

No property tax discount for you, 2120 Cherokee Parkway.

There sure are a lot of whiskey executives and venture capital investors with ties to Mayor Fischer who have received significant property tax discounts for homes most of us can only dream of.  Meanwhile, a lot of Jefferson County homeowners with properties worth less than $250,000 are going to pay significantly higher property taxes.  There are many, many more high-end properties that have lower or unchanged assessments – like $500,000+ properties in the East End, in Harrods Creek and Hunting Creek.  Staggering assessment increases on a lot of modest homes are the only way to compensate for a lot of lost property tax revenue from expensive residential and commercial properties. 

Examples…

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And we haven’t even discussed the multi-million dollar discounts that have been approved for corporate property owners like the $19.5 million assessment reduction for The Paddock Shops at 4001 Summit Drive. That’s about $200,000 in lost revenue.

Or the $7.4 million assessment reduction for 200 S. 4th Street.  That’s over $70,000 in lost revenue.

446 S. 4th Street which is Fourth Street Live! was purchased for $13million in 1995, assessed at $16.9 million in 2014 and reduced to $8.4 million. That’s $80,000 in lost revenue.

And on and on.  So many giveaways, too many to discuss here.  Those multi-million dollar assessment discounts translate into lost tax revenue that Louisville simply cannot afford.  It makes you wonder if the people in charge are capable of even performing basic math calculations.

Understand this: Those big, campaign contributions for Mayor Fischer are not purchasing lower assessments, it’s not that simple.  Friends write big checks for friends who run for office.

There is a bigger story here and you can figure it out on your own.  You have all of the public information here in one tidy blog post with plenty of screenshots — so have fun. You can do it.  Big donors to Louisville’s political machine are also generous philanthropists which creates a fortress of protection from criticism.    But it’s time for all of you to start criticizing and asking questions about a property assessment process that this city cannot afford.

If  you are crafting a blistering tirade in your head about this  assessment nonsense and plan to raise hell with Attorney General Jack Conway, well, you can just forget it.  Brown-Forman helps pay the bills at his $1.741 million mansion on Blakeley Ridge Road, a 10,000 sq-ft home on two acres near River Road that has not increased in value in 7 years.  Mr. Conway’s wife works in public relations at Brown-Forman and this is a PR shitstorm.  You won’t hear a peep out of the Attorney General’s office.

S O…. F O R G E T   I T.

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The Jefferson County PVA’s website says..

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DEADLINE FOR PVA APPEALS IS THIS FRIDAY, MAY 29th at 4:00 p.m.

Click on the screenshot below to begin the appeal process and GOOD LUCK!

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The PVA has four years to reassess your property without even visiting it but you have just a few weeks to submit an appeal.

Click to read Mr. Bailey’s Courier-Journal article about alleged PVA mischief.

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Updated May 31, 2015:  Rep. Kevin Bratcher – R, Louisville (29th District) has requested an investigation into unfair PVA assessments.  He will appear on Mandy Connell’s show on 840WHAS at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2nd.  Please contact Mrs. Connell at mandy@whas.com and Rep. Bratcher at Kevin.Bratcher@lrc.ky.gov or (502) 564-8100 Ext 680 with details about your Jefferson County PVA assessment.