Cincinnati And School Board Still Working Out New Tax Abatement Agreement

Jan 29, 2020

A Cincinnati City Council committee will try again next week to vote on a tax incentive agreement with Cincinnati Public Schools. Right now, four council members are willing to support a plan approved by the CPS board last week. That's just one short of a council majority.

The plan endorsed by the school board would ask commercial real estate developers who get property tax abatements from the city to make payments to the school district for 33% of the abated value instead of taxes. The plan would run for five years and there would be annual audits of the program.

It would replace a previous agreement that expired on Dec. 31.  That had developers making 25-27% payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to the district.  The new agreement would also end the city's annual $5 million payment to CPS.  That's another reason the district says the PILOT percentage needs to increase.

School Board President Carolyn Jones addressed council during the public comment portion of the meeting Wednesday.

"It's been about a year where the district and the city have engaged around this issue," Jones said. "It's time, truly, to put this issue behind us and move forward in the most collaborative manner."

CPS officials presented the district's math to the council committee last week and said it was a pretty simple calculation that 33% is the number needed to make the district whole for the city's tax abatements.

But city administrators again told council that 33% is too generous, and they stuck by their contention that the "make whole" number is closer to 5%.  They've been saying that since the middle of last year, and say to date they've seen no data to change their minds.

Council Member Jeff Pastor said he still supports a neutral, third party examining the school district finances to come up with the correct "made whole" number.

"Maybe it is 33%, maybe it is 5%, maybe it's 40, maybe it's 50, I don't know what it is," Pastor said. "But I think the best path forward is what happened in 1999 when everyone worked together."

The Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce had even offered to pay for that third party analysis. But the city and the school board could never agree on pursing that option.

But going in that direction could be difficult since the school board has indicated no desire for such a review.

Absent an agreement, the school district is ready to set up a committee to review tax abatement agreements made by the city on a case-by-case basis and decide whether to accept them.