Should property owners in southern Over-the-Rhine pay into a special district to fund services above and beyond what the city provides? That’s something they'll be voting on in the coming weeks.
If approved, the so-called Special Improvement District would use an additional assessment on property taxes to provide for litter, snow and graffiti removal and some beautification projects. The district would run south of Liberty Street in OTR from Central Parkway to Spring Street.
Ballots will go out to property owners within the proposed district later this month and voting will run for about 60 days. Owners of 60 percent of the linear front footage of property in the proposed district must approve it under Ohio law. The district could also be approved with votes from owners of property representing 75 percent of the assessed property value of the proposed district. If property owners vote to create the district, Cincinnati City Council must also give its approval.
The proposal would raise about $650,000 a year from property owners, with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation kicking in another $175,000 a year.
The SID, which would be governed by a nonprofit, 501(c)3 board elected by the district's property owners, would raise that money by assessing $2.03 per linear front foot a property occupies plus $1.20 per $1,000 of auditor-assessed value. Linear front footage is the area that abuts public streets and alleyways. Given those numbers, the owners of a building with 200 linear feet of front footage appraised at $800,000 by the Hamilton County Auditor would pay $1,366 extra annually. The owner of a condo worth $175,000 responsible for five linear feet of the building's frontage would pay about $214 extra a year under those assessments.
As CityBeat has previously reported, a group made up representatives from businesses and nonprofits in the area first presented the idea in January 2019. They say that the move would preserve and expand services that are vital to OTR, making it a more welcoming and pleasant neighborhood for all. But some are concerned that it won’t represent the community as a whole.
When the plan was rolled out last year, some residents and social service providers expressed concerns that property owners would pass on their increased property tax assessments to renters, that nonprofits might be saddled with higher assessments that would put strain on their finances, that the board elected to control the SID might not be representative of the community and that state laws governing special improvement districts would give too much power to that board.
There has also been concern that renters wouldn't have a say in the district. The American Community Survey five-year estimates released in 2017 show that roughly 1,800 of the residents in the two Census tracts that would make up the SID are renters, while about 870 own their properties.
Some attendees at an info session last January also pointed out that the City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Cincinnati Public Schools and 3CDC currently hold a large proportion of the land in the proposed SID. Those organizations hold roughly 35 percent of the front footage in the proposed district.
There are roughly 1,000 SIDs and similar Business Improvement Districts nationwide. New York City alone has 72, ranging in size from just a few blocks to entire neighborhoods, and Ohio cities like Akron, Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton also have them.
Cincinnati already has one SID created in downtown in 1997. That district, now administered by 3CDC, involves the city, major businesses and residents and raises about $3.2 million a year, which goes to pay Downtown Ambassadors and provide litter and graffiti removal along with other services.