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Some strange things happened after The Plain Dealer's publisher challenged his property value
Cleveland Plain Dealer ^ | Sunday, August 22, 2010, 4:29 AM | rk Puente, The Plain Dealer

Posted on 08/22/2010 5:39:00 AM PDT by Diago

Every three years, when Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo updates property values countywide, he notifies taxpayers of proposed new values and invites them to fill out a form if they disagree.

The process is separate from the formal complaints filed with the county's Board of Revision after property values are set.

Plain Dealer Publisher Terrance C. Z. Egger took advantage of the informal process in 2006 after receiving a letter notifying him of the proposed value of his Bay Village home.

Then, some strange things began occurring.

The first, Egger said, was that Frank Russo himself called Egger at The Plain Dealer to talk about the house value.

Then, in March this year, one of Russo's employees contacted Egger to warn him that a 2006 cut in his property value would be leaked to television reporters if the newspaper continued writing about the auditor, Egger said.

Finally, Egger's file at the auditor's office disappeared. No one employed by the auditor could find it this week until late Friday afternoon, after the newspaper called to say it was publishing this story.

Workers then located it--in Russo's private office.

Egger purchased the Bay Village house in May 2006 for $1,540,000. As he and his wife arranged to close, they expected the property taxes to be about $15,000 a year, but they were shocked when they saw settlement documents showing the taxes would be about $30,000 a year.

During the countywide reappraisal in 2006, when all taxpayers received a "Homeowner Response Form" from the auditor's office. For the Eggers, the notice proposed a home value of $1,341,400. The Eggers thought that value was still to high and filled out an online form to ask for a reduction.

They argued that the taxes were dramatically higher than comparable homes in the area.

Egger said he was surprised when, a short time later, he received a call at his Plain Dealer office from Russo. Egger said Russo asked whether the Eggers' challenge to their assessment was connected to a newspaper story. Russo explained to Egger that years earlier, then-Editor Doug Clifton had ordered a story after the assessment of Clifton's home changed, Egger said.

Clifton, who retired from the newspaper in 2007, said in a telephone interview Friday that his value had dropped inexplicably, without him asking. He thought that was odd and asked reporters to find what was going across the county. The resulting story was embarrassing for Russo. It pointed out that mistakes and bad judgment by the auditor's office had wrongly removed $115 million in value from the tax rolls.

Egger said he explained to Russo that his request for a reduction had nothing to do with the newspaper. He said he challenged his assessment like any other taxpayer can and was not seeking special treatment.

Looking back, Egger said he didn't understand why his house would be flagged or why Russo would call, as the form didn't list his affiliation to the newspaper. And the house was in the name of Egger's wife.

In October 2006, Egger received a letter signed by Russo saying the value of his home had been reduced to $1,176,900, a decrease of $164,500.

During the first week of March this year, an auditor's employee e-mailed Egger, and Egger called the man a day later. The man, whom Egger declined to identify, complained about the newspaper coverage of Russo. The employee stressed that senior officials and other workers in Russo's office were tired of being scrutinized in the newspaper.

He said that Egger's "deal" would be leaked to television reporters if the newspaper continued writing about the office, Egger recalled.

The warning was inappropriate and disturbed him, Egger said.

"I had nothing to hide," Egger said. "I'll be damned if I'm going to ask one of our reporters or our newsroom not to do their jobs. The chips will fall where they may.

Last week, as The Plain Dealer continued probing how boards of revision operate in Cuyahoga County, editors decided to publish a story about Egger's experience. When reporters went looking for Egger's file in Russo's office, workers said it did not exist.

Egger, however, had kept his own copies of the records, enabling reporters to proceed with the story. Friday afternoon, after the newspaper called Russo's office for a comment, workers suddenly found the missing file -- in Russo's private office.

Destin Ramsey, Russo's chief operating officer, said Russo took the file because a Plain Dealer reporter was asking questions about Russo's home. Russo wanted to compare his home to Egger's, Ramsey said.

The file includes memo about Egger's home, which says that in 2006, Egger "called the Auditor's Office and specifically asked for the Auditor himself, Frank Russo. They had a lengthy conversation and Mr. Russo turned the complaint over to Senior Appraiser Dan Harbaugh."

The memo is undated, but it had to be written this year because it refers to a March 2010 newspaper article about Bay Village property values, which is included in the file. The file also contains the text of Egger's 2006 argument for a lower value, which was extracted from the county data center and e-mailed to Cindy Bialowas, a Russo aide, on March 1 of this year.

Egger says March is exactly when a worker in Russo's office warned him that details of his reduction in value would be released to the media if The Plain Dealer did not stop probing.

Ramsey said he does not know who wrote the memo about Egger, but he said Russo would not have initiated talks with the publisher.

"I've never seen Frank call anybody up front," Ramsey said. "His call list is as long as Kentucky. He calls everybody back. "

Egger disagreed.

"It absolutely did not happen," he said. "He initiated the phone call."


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Cleveland!
1 posted on 08/22/2010 5:39:04 AM PDT by Diago
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To: Diago

$30k in property taxes sound well in excess of services provided.


2 posted on 08/22/2010 5:44:48 AM PDT by Paladin2
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To: Diago
We don't live in a republic anymore, nor do we have a democracy. Rather, we have government by thieves - a kleptocracy.
3 posted on 08/22/2010 5:53:30 AM PDT by neutrino (Globalization is the economic treason that dare not speak its name.(173))
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To: Diago

I don’t know about Cleveland, but in the Pittsburgh area, property assessments seem to be at the whim of the assessor. No one takes into account things like the neighborhood, the condition of the home or the values assigned to similar homes in the neighborhood. Even after lawsuits, the assessors here still can’t get it right. One wonders too about corruption — is there bribery or extortion involved in order to get a better assessment?

My house is valued the same as when I bought it in 1989. This, despite the decline of the neighborhood. Most of the houses in my neighborhood are valued less than mine. I guess I should be grateful the assessment hasn’t gone up, but still.


4 posted on 08/22/2010 5:54:06 AM PDT by fatnotlazy
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To: Diago

1. I am sick of the elitist press.

2. Did some second year intern write this “article”?


5 posted on 08/22/2010 6:04:27 AM PDT by mad_as_he$$ (Playing by the rules only works if both sides do it!)
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To: Diago

Yet another reason why property tax should be illegal. As long as property taxes are legal, then the Fifth Amendment is not guaranteeing our God-given right to own private property.


6 posted on 08/22/2010 6:15:26 AM PDT by pnh102 (Regarding liberalism, always attribute to malice what you think can be explained by stupidity. - Me)
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To: Diago
Egger received a letter signed by Russo saying the value of his home had been reduced to $1,176,900
So the publisher of the Cleveland newspaper - I assume a very liberal rag - lives in a MILLION DOLLAR house. Go figure.
7 posted on 08/22/2010 6:22:23 AM PDT by oh8eleven (RVN '67-'68)
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To: oh8eleven

Anywhere on the east or west coast (or almost anywhere but Cleveland) it would probably be valued north of $3 mil.


8 posted on 08/22/2010 6:43:13 AM PDT by JimRed (Excising a cancer before it kills us waters the Tree of Liberty too! TERM LIMITS, NOW AND FOREVER!)
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To: Diago

A town assessor will be visiting the house in the next week or so for reevaluation - I’ll be messing up the yard, not cleaning anything - taking doors off of cabinets...need to come in low.


9 posted on 08/22/2010 6:49:26 AM PDT by libertarian27 (Ingsoc: Department of Life, Department of Liberty, Department of Happiness)
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To: Diago
Eggers thought that value was still to high

Time for a new editor.

10 posted on 08/22/2010 6:54:20 AM PDT by Poser (Enjoying tasty animals for 58 years)
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To: Poser

OMG!! Doesn’t ANYONE know anything these days??


11 posted on 08/22/2010 7:23:21 AM PDT by Ann Archy (Abortion......the Human Sacrifice to the god of Convenience.)
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To: Diago

In Ohio, taxes run approximately 2% of a property’s value (although that is not how taxes are actually assessed). The $30,000 figure does not seem out of line to me for a $1.5 million house, although there could be some reason why taxes in Egger’s neighborhood are less than the norm.


12 posted on 08/22/2010 7:23:51 AM PDT by Loyal Buckeye
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To: Loyal Buckeye

In Pittsburgh we pay closer to 4% of the value—so $30,000 is low, it could be more like $50-60 thousand. Plus if he lives in Bay Village he probably has lake front property. I wish I could afford a $1 million house.


13 posted on 08/22/2010 7:34:20 AM PDT by mommyq
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To: Diago

One of the reasons that the only taxes should be a straight and uniform percent levied on retail sales. Every other tax ends up violating equality before the law because no two incomes are derived from an identical mix of sources and no two homes are alike.


14 posted on 08/22/2010 7:35:58 AM PDT by theBuckwheat
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To: ADemocratNoMore; Akron Al; arbee4bush; agrace; ATOMIC_PUNK; Badeye; Bikers4Bush; BlindedByTruth; ...

Ohio Pings!

To be added to the Ohio Ping List, please freepmail, (works best),
LasVegasDave.

15 posted on 08/22/2010 7:37:36 AM PDT by Las Vegas Dave (To anger a Conservative, tell him a lie. To anger a Liberal, tell him the truth.)
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To: mad_as_he$$

More like a kindergartner.

What I’m getting is that he bought the house for 1.5 million, then it was assessed for 1.3 million, and the buyer said “It’s not worth that much!” right after paying the 1.5 million.

Doesn’t speak well for the buyer’s business accumen.


16 posted on 08/22/2010 7:46:08 AM PDT by Larry Lucido
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To: Larry Lucido

Hey he seems to be in the newspaper business — a dying endeavor.


17 posted on 08/22/2010 8:26:50 AM PDT by mad_as_he$$ (Playing by the rules only works if both sides do it!)
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To: Diago

Newspapers will do anal exams of local tax assessors but they have no interest in finding out who Barack Hussein Ubanga is.


18 posted on 08/22/2010 9:00:27 AM PDT by Lancey Howard
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To: Larry Lucido

This rich newspaper magnate Egger bought the $1.5M house in May 2006, right around the peak of the real estate market boom. Nearly everybody who bought a house during 2005 - 2007 paid more than today’s market value.


19 posted on 08/22/2010 9:04:20 AM PDT by Lancey Howard
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To: Loyal Buckeye
although there could be some reason why taxes in Egger’s neighborhood are less than the norm.

It is Bay Village!

Bay Village boasts a highly educated and professional population and a quality school system, making it one of the most desirable residential suburbs of Cleveland.

The effective real property tax rate for Bay Village is 76.26 mills or 2.34% of the value of the property.

20 posted on 08/22/2010 2:58:38 PM PDT by EBH (Our First Right...."it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,")
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To: EBH
It is Bay Village!

Yeah, I know. I was just being nice. Egger has some explaining to do IMO.

21 posted on 08/23/2010 6:04:27 AM PDT by Loyal Buckeye
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