Government arm uses taxpayer’s money to outbid local churches and private interests
Loveland, Oh. - Two years ago when city council wanted an increase in the income tax rate there were cries that there wasn’t “two extra dimes to rub together” and dire predictions that the road fund was so depleted city streets would soon turn to rubble and dirt paths. Even now, the flower planting program has mostly been suspended because there is no money to pay for watering flowers. Because of staff cuts, instead of nurturing and weeding flower beds in Nisbet Park… weed whacking to a scorched earth, and inch deep mud cannot be cleaned from beneath a picnic shelter. Staff reductions at the police department. Discontinued high school sports and council meetings on ICRC, Public Access TV.
City taxpayers have bought and will demolish the Loveland Lanes bowling alley at 897 Loveland Madeira Road across the street from the Loveland Kroger because city hall feared a local church or non-profit would buy it.
City dollars have been transferred to the Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) to complete the purchase. Allowed by state law, the CIC is the quasi-government arm of City Council that can operate and do business in ways the city charter will not allow city council. Its members include the city manager, all council members, and some members of the greater community such as the school superintendent, and business interests.
Voting for the purchase was CeeCee Collins (Chamber President/CEO), David Duckworth (interim city manager), Mark Fitzgerald (council member and CIC President), Pam Gross (council member), Chad Hilliker (Miami Township resident and Loveland school superintendent), Cory O’Donnell (Symmes Township business interests), Ted Phelps (council member), Angela Settell (council member), and Robert Weisgerber (council member). Not all members of CIC were present.
Mayor Linda Cox voted against the purchase. She told Loveland Magazine she was not comfortable with the purchase because of the uncertainty of the Loveland Station project in Historic Downtown. “I didn’t feel financially, it was the right time.”
Council member and President of the CIC, Mark Fitzgerald said, “There was a move afoot that the deteriorated and dilapidated building could possibly fall into the hands of a non-taxpaying entity and would continue to remain, as opposed to being torn down.”
New Hope Baptist Church, adjacent to the bowling alley was one of the churches inquiring about buying Loveland Lanes. Pastor Bill Hounshell said he did have a recent conversation with the owner. He said his church was exploring the idea of using the bowling alley for needed expansion of their youth programs. Hounshell said the conversation never reached the point of an offer being put forward. He said it was his understanding that one other church was considering buying Loveland Lanes for use as a worship space. Churches do not pay property taxes, however their employees pay local income tax.
On May 13, the CIC authorized Fitzgerald to enter into a contract with Landrich Investments.
The sale will cost taxpayers $525,000, with $60,000 paid at closing. The balance will require a $465,000.00 note with 3.25% interest. Payments will be $8,407.20 a month for 60 months. The price goes beyond these amounts as maintenance, insurance, administrative costs, and legal fees accumulate, as will gas, electric, and water bills.. There will be costs to market and prepare the property for sale. Property taxes must be paid. These costs will also be taken from the city general fund whenever requested by CIC.
On June 19, Loveland Magazine sent an e-mail to each council member asking questions its readers were asking about a possible purchase of the bowling lanes.
1. Moving city hall there so they can sell current city hall to some developer.
2. So they can control more growth in the city.
3. To keep a shooting range out.
None of the council members responded, however on June 20, the city issued a press release announcing the sale. It reads in part: “The CIC had the property appraised by Integra Realty Resources in April, 2014, which appraised the building and surrounding land at $562,500. Under the terms of the purchase agreement, the CIC will pay monthly installments over the next 5 years.”
The press release quoted Fitzgerald:
The CIC is moving forward to assure the property remains a tax generating site. The opportunity to acquire at favorable terms and value presented itself and CIC acted. Private development interests have already expressed interest in it.
The Hamilton County Auditor’s web site says the sale closed on June 20. The Auditor lists the appraised value of the land at $158,760, the building that will be demolished at $198,050. Total value: $356,810.
The minutes of the May 13 CIC meeting reflect: “Mr. Duckworth stated that there is value in the equipment in the building estimated at $50,000, so we will sell that and use the proceeds to defray the demolition costs.”
Duckworth, the interim city manager, told Loveland Magazine after this week’s council meeting that the owner approached him and said his bowling alley was for sale, and they had a suitor, a church. Duckworth said that the owner asked if the city was interested in buying his bowling alley. If not, he would proceed to sell it to a church. Then, according to Duckworth, “I said give me some time to see if we can find the funds for it.” That is when Duckworth set in motion the purchase and approached the CIC.
When asked if the owner mentioned which churches were interested, Duckworth said, “A church. Don’t know which church.” When asked if the city was competing against a church, he said, “No, there was no competition.” When asked about the price the city paid, Duckworth said they got it for, “A hell of a price. We had it appraised.” When asked if the true value of the property would in fact be what the private market would be willing to pay, Duckworth walked away without responding further.
“The money to purchase the bowling alley will be transferred from the General Fund, “ Finance Director Tom Vanderhorst told Loveland Magazine.
The bowling alley was built in 1959 on the 6.530 acre site. About 1/3 of the site is steep ravine.
According to the minutes of the May 13 CIC meeting, Duckworth said that he has had two inquiries about the land and has stayed in touch with them and suspected once the city has a clear title, the interest level will increase. “We will be in the driver’s seat with respect to the end user.”
The May 13 minutes of CIC meeting reflect:
Fitzgerald noted that City officials have had numerous discussions if its role is to be involved in the real estate business, and in this case it certainly is because the one certainty is that this property is going to be disposed of and new owners would operate in an aged building and it’d be a marginal or non-tax producing outcome for the City. He said if we are serious about improving Loveland Madeira Road, this is the kind of investment we need to make.