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Councilmember proposes property tax task force to avoid a 'tsunami of foreclosures and evictions'

Councilmember Mark Jeffreys, property owner Tricia Morris and others in Mount Auburn.
Nick Swartsell
Councilmember Mark Jeffreys, property owner Tricia Morris and others in Mount Auburn on March 4, 2024.

Cincinnati City Council Member Mark Jeffreys is calling for a city task force to find solutions after a large spike in property taxes across Hamilton County.

The sudden rise could put homeowners and renters in a difficult situation, he says.

"We are facing down a potential tsunami of foreclosures in the next year and evictions in the next year if we don't act," he said. "So we have a choice: We can sit on our hands and do nothing and wait for the state legislature to act, or we can take matters into our own hands."

RELATED: Cincinnati's property tax rate will remain the same for 2025, after 'rollback' ended last year

Jeffreys' proposed task force would include homeowners, city officials, nonprofits like Housing Opportunities Made Equal and Local Initiatives Support Corporation as well as real estate and landlord groups like The Greater Cincinnati Realtist Association and The Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Apartment Association. Hamilton County Auditor Brigid Kelly and Treasurer Jill Schiller would also be involved.

Property valuations went up for many across Hamilton County after the county's regular six-year reappraisal in 2023. Other parts of the state, including parts of Butler and Warren Counties, also saw big increases. That in turn raised property taxes for many homeowners and landlords. But those increases were not evenly spread across the board.

There's a complex series of factors that determine the property tax liability a property owner faces. Those include local levies in effect, the property tax rate of the municipality the property is in and of course the value of the property, which is in itself determined by a company contracted by the county auditor to compare sale prices of a property and nearby properties, recent improvements and so forth. Also playing into the mix: any property tax abatements awarded on improvements made to a property.

The average boost in property taxes in Cincinnati was about 16%. But some neighborhoods in the city like East Price Hill, Camp Washington, North Fairmount and Mount Auburn saw much larger increases.

Tricia Morris is a small landlord and homeowner in Mount Auburn. She says her property taxes increased dramatically on both her home and her rental property. She's not alone — on average, property taxes in the neighborhood went up 37 percent, according to data from the Hamilton County Auditor.

"I have for the last few years not increased the rent when I could have. I've been proud to be able to do that, because I know all other aspects have gone up due to inflation," she says. "But I received an increase of two and a half times the tax bill on my rental. Even if I increased the rent $300 a month, I wouldn't be able to break even on this new tax bill. I know a lot of small landlords like myself who are trying to figure out what to do here. It seems like we have no option but to pass these enormous cost on to our renters in some way."

RELATED: Commissioner Alicia Reece asks Gov. DeWine to 'intervene' in property taxes

One potential idea the task force could consider: Jeffreys floated the idea of using some of a $50 million fund the city had set aside to deal with fallout from a lawsuit around workers paying city payroll taxes while they worked from home during the pandemic.

Last month the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Cincinnati can keep those payroll taxes, but can't collect payroll taxes from work-from home employees in the future. Jeffreys suggests using part of the money the city has stashed away to aid moderate-income homeowners with big property tax increases.

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.