By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN – The assessed value of two dilapidated houses owned by a city councilman dropped 73 percent the year he was elected, but the assessor’s office says that’s because the condition of the homes deteriorated and they were no longer being rented.
Lincoln Councilman Gene Carroll has faced criticism this week after his ownership of three seedy, vacant homes was publicized. Police say one of those homes has been a target for squatters, including a 52-year-old Lincoln woman and her grandson, who were found living in a back porch of the vacant home in October and again this month.
Some have questioned how the value of the property could have dropped so precipitously since Carroll bought it. But Rob Ogden, chief field deputy for the Lancaster County Assessor, said the homes had an income stream up until 2009, when both homes were vacated.
“What he purchased is different than what exists now,” Ogden said. “When he purchased those properties they were in good enough shape that they were rental properties that he was getting income (on).”
The homes sit side-by-side at 2544 and 2536 O Street, three blocks east of Lincoln’s $246 million flood control and urban revitalization project, the Antelope Valley Project.
Ogden said businesses rented both houses until 2009, but now the utilities are disconnected and the homes are empty.
Carroll bought the two houses and land for $260,000 in 2005. He protested their values in 2009 – the same year he was elected to the City Council — and got them reduced 73 percent. The 2544 O St. property’s value was reduced from $151,800 to $41,700 and the 2536 O St. property value dropped from $102,800 to $27,800, according to the county assessor’s records.
The properties today are valued by the county at $129,200, with the value of the homes reduced to zero. The Main Street property — three parcels in all — is listed for sale at $495,000.
Matt Innis lives in a neighborhood with a lot of problem properties, with which the neighborhood association is always battling. When he read about the woman living in the vacant house’s porch with her grandson, he tracked down the owner and was surprised to find it was a city councilman. He’s also skeptical of the huge drop in the assessed value of the property — which is used to calculate property taxes — since Carroll bought it.
“How many properties in Lincoln got a 73 percent reduction three years after they paid a huge amount of money for it?” asked Innis, who just so happens to be chairman of the county Republican party. Carroll is a Democrat.
But Carroll noted the county assessor is a Republican and the County Board is dominated by Republicans, and they and an independent appraiser handled his valuation protests.
The land is zoned commercial and has been since before Carroll bought it.
“They certainly are vacant and decrepit,” Ogden said. “Houses get to the point where they’re not worth taking care of.”
The assessor’s office disqualified the purchase — in other words, didn’t consider it a good sale – after a sale assessment study in 2005, he said.
“One sale does not a market make,” Ogden said. “And he may have paid too much.”
Carroll has declined to comment to Nebraska Watchdog, but he told KLIN on Tuesday he disconnected the utilities, removed asbestos and sealed up the house in preparation for demolition, saying, “It’s what happens when you have a vacant property that you’re getting ready to demolish.”
But County Clerk records show that Carroll made the same claim three years ago, when he appealed to the county to lower its valuation of the property. County records from 2009 say the utilities had been disconnected in both homes, and they were “readied for demolition.”
The Building & Safety employee who handles demolition permits, Gordon McGill, said Carroll has not applied for a permit to demolish the house – a process that typically takes weeks to months, depending on how motivated the owner is. Carroll told KLIN he expects to have the house demolished this winter.
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