LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Local officials are reconsidering the value of a home Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin purchased from a friend and campaign donor that has prompted two ethics complaints and attracted the attention of the state attorney general.
The issue is whether Bevin and his wife got a sweetheart deal on the house in a wealthy suburb of Kentucky’s largest city. The Bevins purchased the home in March for $1.6 million from Neil Ramsey, a friend who owns an investment company. The Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator says the property is worth $2.9 million.
Wednesday, an appeals board heard arguments from Bevin’s attorney about why he believes the house is overvalued. The board did not make a decision, deferring action until they can inspect the property next month.
The case is one of 1,100 active appeals in Jefferson County, but Wednesday’s hearing attracted reporters from half a dozen news organizations that overwhelmed the small room at the Jefferson County Fiscal Court building. It is also just one of two hearings to be prosecuted by the Jefferson County attorney’s office.
“Property tax law is cool now,” said Mark Sommer, Bevin’s attorney.
Wednesday, Bevin’s attorney told an appeals board the property was overvalued. He noted the county’s assessment is based on a 19 acre tract of land in the city of Anchorage. But the Bevins purchased 10 acres. Plus, the house has a “significant moisture issue” that has led to rot, mold and fungus.
John May, an appraiser hired, by Bevin testified the 19 acre tract plus the house was worth $2.15 million. He said the 10 acres that Bevin bought, plus the house, was worth $1.39 million.
“I think it is grossly overvalued,” May said.
Jason Hancock, director of valuation for the property valuation administrator’s office, told the board that in 2013, when Ramsey and his wife sold the house to themselves via another business they owned, the deed certified the property was worth $3 million. They also note the Ramseys paid for significant renovations of the home in the hopes of turning it into a bed and breakfast.
“The party indicated it is a $3 million house back then. Now they are making a change to that statement,” said Matt Golden, the civil division director for the Jefferson County attorney’s office.
Mark Sommer, Bevin’s attorney, said anytime someone sells a house to themselves, the sale price is “suspect” and must be disregarded.
The city of Anchorage also originally valued the 19-acre property at about $3 million. They later lowered that assessment to $2.2 million after Ramsey appealed. Ramsey did not appeal the Jefferson County valuation before selling the house to Bevin.
Bevin’s home purchase has prompted two ethics complaints, one from the director of an ethics watchdog group and another from a Democratic state lawmaker. Also, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear has said he is considering launching an investigation to see if any laws were broken.
Monday, a state ethics panel told Beshear it would be improper for him to launch an investigation if he intends to challenge Bevin for re-election in 2019. Beshear has said he is reviewing the opinion.
Bevin has dismissed questions about the sale as “political mumbo jumbo.”
“This is a political hack job. There is literally nothing there to investigate,” Bevin told WVHU radio earlier this week. “He (Beshear) could investigate, but he would look like a fool in the end.”