Cincinnati, CPS Abatement Debate Continues

Jan 21, 2020

A Cincinnati City Council committee did not vote Tuesday on a tax incentive agreement with Cincinnati Public Schools that Mayor John Cranley introduced last week.

Mayor Cranley, with several school board members at his side, had announced a proposal for 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 proposed agreement would run for 10 years, and replaces a previous agreement that expired on Dec. 31 that had those 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.

CPS officials presented the district's math to the council committee 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.

"I'm interested in finding the hold harmless number," said Council Member David Mann. "And I'm disappointed that we couldn't agree on a path to engage somebody, an agreed third party entity, to provide us that information."

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.

"It seems like there are two sets of facts here that we need to come to a conclusion on one set of facts and go from there," said Council Member Chris Seelbach. "And I think it makes sense to do that with a third party. So, for me, I think the next step is to go in that direction."

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

Five school board members attended Tuesday's council committee meeting, and board President Carolyn Jones said they thought there was an agreement that had the support of a council majority.

"We're going back to where we started in the beginning of this discussion many, many, many months ago, about having a third party entity look at this, and I think the district has been very clear about the direction of this," Jones said.

Council Member Greg Landsman suggested the two sides could go with the 33% PILOT amount, but not for the 10 years that was purposed. He suggested a number of years, but something closer to a five-year term.

"I don't think it's healthy or helpful when adults are arguing, even with the best intentions, when the future of children are at stake," Landsman said.

Without an agreement, the city can offer limited commercial property tax abatements for a shorter period of time without the approval of the school district. But any longer-term deal would need district approval.

Cranley's proposal was held on the Budget and Finance Committee agenda, and that group doesn't meet again for two weeks unless a special meeting is called.