Kentucky Governor Wins Property Tax Appeal On His New Home

Aug 4, 2017

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has won a property tax dispute that had prompted two ethics complaints from people who had questioned whether the governor and his wife got a sweetheart deal when buying their new home.

The Jefferson County Board of Assessment Appeals agreed with the value an appraiser hired by Bevin's team had placed on the property that includes the governor's home.

In a ruling released Friday, the board set the value of the property in a wealthy Louisville suburb at $2.15 million — the same amount placed on the property by Bevin's appraiser as part of the Republican governor's appeals case.

The Jefferson County property valuation administrator had previously determined the property is worth $2.9 million.

Bevin purchased the property from a friend and campaign donor for $1.6 million, which led to two ethics complaints that have since been dismissed by a state ethics commission.

Mark Sommer, Bevin's attorney, said Friday he was pleased with the assessment appeals board's finding, and praised its handling of a case that stirred an "unprecedented amount of attention and very real distractions."

Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator Tony Lindauer said he respects the three-member board's decision and will not appeal the value it set.

"The appeals process is in place for a reason," he said. "This was an example of why we have it. We have to respect the process."

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat, appoints the full appeals board's membership, but he does not choose which members hear individual cases, the mayor's office said.

Bevin bought the home in March and later appealed the value set by the local PVA's office. The governor argued that he purchased 10 acres of a 19-acre tract and said the home required significant repairs.

The three-member appeals board inspected the home in person. But local officials said they were prevented from accessing much of Bevin's home. Lindauer said two staff members told him the inspection did not include the house's second floor, third floor and barn, The Courier-Journal reported.

The valuation issue that simmered throughout the summer was whether Bevin and his wife got a sweetheart deal on the house.

Bevin and his wife purchased the home from Neil Ramsey. Bevin appointed him to the Kentucky Retirement Systems board of trustees. Ramsey is also part-owner of a company that has a contract with the state.

A state watchdog group and a Democratic lawmaker filed ethics complaints, but an ethics commission unanimously dismissed them both, saying no law bans "public servants from engaging in a financial transaction or giving each other gifts."

Bevin has dismissed criticism of the property purchase as "political mumbo jumbo," and was sharply critical of media coverage of the matter. He tweeted Tuesday that a drone was "flying directly over and around my home filming my children."

The board's ruling surfaced a day before the annual Fancy Farm picnic — the state's premier political event. The ruling could defuse one of the issues that Democratic stalwarts might have planned to use in skewering Bevin, who planned on skipping the event.

Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause Kentucky, said Friday he relied on the PVA's value in filing his ethics complaints against Bevin in the matter. He said he was surprised by the outcome of the governor's property tax appeal.

"I've never known the PVA to be that far off," he said.