LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has won a property tax dispute that had prompted two ethics complaints from people who questioned whether the governor and his wife got a sweetheart deal when buying their new home.
The Jefferson County Board of Assessment Appeals agreed with the value an appraiser hired by Bevin’s team had placed on the property that includes the governor’s home. The board determined that the price Bevin paid for part of the property was above market value.
The ruling seemed to vindicate Bevin, who has said for months that he bought the home for more than it was worth. But it likely won’t be the end of the issue for the first-term Republican governor. Friday night, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear told reporters outside the annual Marshall County Bean Supper that he has referred his concerns about the purchase to the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Beshear said his office has not launched an investigation and has reached no conclusions. But his concerns centered not on how much Bevin paid for the home but the fact that he purchased it from a state contractor. Bevin bought the home from Neil Ramsey for $1.6 million in March. Ramsey owns part of a company that does business with the state.
“We thought it was appropriate to just send the information to them and they can make the decision themselves,” Beshear said. “My concerns about the governor’s purchase of that mansion from a state contractor have always been bigger than the actual value.”
A spokeswoman for Bevin did not respond to a request for comment. The governor’s office told the Lexington Herald-Leader earlier this year that the administration was not aware of the contract, which was first signed by the previous administration.
The home originally sat on 19 acres of land. But Bevin and his wife purchased just 10 acres, plus the house. In a ruling released Friday, the board set the value of the 19-acre property and home at $2.15 million — the same amount placed on the property by Bevin’s appraiser as part of the Republican governor’s appeals case. The appeals board placed the value of the home and those 10 acres at nearly $1.4 million.
County officials had previously valued the property at nearly $2.9 million, suggesting Bevin had gotten a deal on the purchase.
Mark Sommer, Bevin’s attorney, said Friday he was pleased with the assessment appeals board’s finding, and praised its handling of a case that stirred an “unprecedented amount of attention and very real distractions.”
Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator Tony Lindauer said he respects the three-member board’s decision and will not appeal the value it set.
“The appeals process is in place for a reason,” he said. “This was an example of why we have it. We have to respect the process.”
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat, appoints the full appeals board’s membership, but he does not choose which members hear individual cases, the mayor’s office said. The three-member appeals board inspected the home in person on Tuesday, but reporters were not allowed to observe.
A state watchdog group and a Democratic lawmaker filed ethics complaints, but an ethics commission unanimously dismissed them both, saying no law bans “public servants from engaging in a financial transaction or giving each other gifts.”
Beshear called that ruling “shameful.”
Bevin has dismissed criticism of the property purchase as “political mumbo jumbo,” and was sharply critical of media coverage of the matter. He tweeted Tuesday that a drone was “flying directly over and around my home filming my children.” The drone was flown by WDRB-TV. The station did not air or publish images of Bevin’s children.
Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause Kentucky, said Friday he relied on the PVA’s value in filing his ethics complaints against Bevin in the matter. He said he was surprised by the outcome of the governor’s property tax appeal.
“I’ve never known the PVA to be that far off,” he said.
Beam reported from Gilbertsville, Kentucky.