Gov. Matt Bevin’s mansion and the 10 acres it sits on is worth $1.39 million, far less than the value set by the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator, the governor’s appraiser told an appeals board Wednesday.
Appraiser John May, a former Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator who served as head of the Department of Revenue under former Gov. Ernie Fletcher, said improvements to the property in 2013 were overvalued by the Jefferson County PVA when the agency assessed the house and 19 surrounding acres in January at $2.97 million.
“I’m not only saying I think it’s overvalued,” May told the Jefferson County Board of Assessment Appeals. “I think it’s grossly overvalued for the value of the allocation to the improvements. ”
May said the house is worth $1,015,000 and the surrounding 10 acres are worth $375,000. The PVA contends the house is worth $2,134,780 and the surrounding 19 acres are worth $840,000.
May said he came to his conclusion after comparing Bevin’s mansion with six similar houses in the Anchorage area and learning about problems in the basement of the governor’s home.
The value of Bevin’s house has taken on unusual importance after newspaper reports that Bevin purchased the house for well under its assessed value sparked two ethics complaints and the threat of an investigation from Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear.
Bevin purchased the house and 10 of those acres from his friend and political donor Neil Ramsey for $1.6 million in March.
The appeals board will not decide Bevin’s case until next month. To make an accurate ruling, members of the appeals board said they will need to examine the inside of the house, which is scheduled to happen Aug. 1.
Discussion at the hearing centered mostly on the value of improvements made to the house when Ramsey renovated it in 2013. Ramsey and his wife Anne were honored by the Louisville Historical League for their work on the house, but May raised several issues with the basement of the property, including moisture in the structure of the house.
Representatives for the PVA raised few points during their turn to defend the assessment beyond presenting the documents they used to make their determination, including deeds, descriptions of the house found online and the comparable properties they used to determine the value of the home.
Mark Sommer, an attorney representing Bevin and Ramsey, took issue with some of those comparable properties.
“I find it stunning that anyone would take two $420,000 ranches, I don’t care where they’re located, and argue that is comparable to the property we just had a hearing on,” Sommer said.
May took issue with the PVA’s use of a deed transfer from 2013, when Ramsey transferred the property to his LLC for $3 million. But Matt Golden, the civil division director for the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office, pushed back.
“They are the party that said ‘this is what I think the land is worth,’” Golden said. “Now they are saying something different some years later.”
Sommer and May argued the deed transfer was irrelevant because it does not fit the description of an arms-length transaction in an open market.
“I believe media reports have quoted Mr. Ramsey, who signed that document, that $3 million did not accurately reflect what he believed the value of the property was at that time,” Sommer said.
May valued the house and all 19 acres at $2.15 million, a little under the $2.2 million assessment it was given by the city of Anchorage, which does its own property valuations. Ramsey is a member of the Anchorage city council.
The high-profile nature of the case did not go unnoticed by those in attendance. Sommer pointed out that it was the first time he had seen county attorneys and media at an appeals assessment.
“I guess tax law is cool now,” Sommer said.
Bevin has previously said there was nothing unethical about the purchase of his house and claimed the property “is arguably not even worth what was paid for it.”
The appeals board is appointed by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat.
If Bevin isn’t satisfied with the board’s decision, he can appeal to the Kentucky Claims Commission, which consists of three members appointed by Bevin.