GENEVA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ohio — As neighbors along Lake Erie in Ashtabula County deal with heavy erosion, it’s possible some of them may see an increase in property value or property taxes despite losing property.
From the erosion at Geneva Township Park to erosion happening on private properties along Ashtabula County’s 25 miles of lakefront, village, county and state leaders said the problem is going to be costly to fix.
For Cindie Harkless, what’s happening to her neighborhood of Mapleton Beach in Geneva-on-the-Lake can be summed up in one word: “heartbreaking.”
Harkless said the property has been in her family since she was 12, and that back in the 1980s, when lake levels were nearly as high as they are now, she and her neighbors banded together to put in erosion controls.
"The last few years, we’ve noticed our rings are shifting, they’re cracking, they’re moving,” Harkless said.
Harkless said the estimate to fix the current problems in Mapleton Beach is approximately $120,000. There are 24 property owners in Mapleton Beach, Harkless said, but she doubted all of them would want to pitch in.
She was one of many property owners dealing with erosion who showed up Monday night to a meeting at Geneva-on-the-Lake’s Village Hall.
“This may be the new norm that we’re dealing with,” said State Representative John Patterson (D-District 99).
The cost just to stop the erosion from getting worse on public land tops $1 million, according to village officials.
“There’s not an easy fix, it’s not going away overnight,” Patterson told the crowd at the meeting.
Even as erosion eats away at the shoreline, it’s possible some property values could go up.
"It’s a difficult thing to tell folks, ‘Hey, your property is less, but it’s actually valued more, and hey, by the way, we gotta charge you more in taxes too,’” said Ashtabula County Auditor David Thomas.
Thomas said this year, the county is performing a countywide revaluation, required by the state every six years.
“We look at every single property and assess changes in condition, changes in market status for the properties in the neighborhood, and then give it an updated value,” Thomas said.
He said there isn’t really any relief available from the state for erosion-related property loss, unless 90% of the property is underwater.
That means people losing some of their property to erosion might pay higher property taxes, if they're in an area where sales are strong.
“In some areas, sales aren’t really happening or sales are actually lower in value than in others,” Thomas said. “And in some parts of the county, such as Geneva-on-the-Lake, frankly, we’re seeing the market really strong. We’re seeing sales occurring and we’re seeing values actually increase, and depending on what sales are happening.”
Of course, property value helps determine property taxes, but there are other factors, Thomas said.
“[In] Geneva-on-the-Lake, if values increase along the lake, then maybe folks who live a little bit off the lake, their taxes may actually go down, even if their values go up,” Thomas said. “So it will really kind of depend on what the area is doing and how things are moving.”
Still, Thomas said homeowners still own what's underneath the water when they lose property to erosion, which could be a good thing if and when lake levels go back down.
"We may actually see some of that land come back for beaches, and then those folks will actually get that property back,” Thomas said. “They still own it. It’s just a couple feet of water above it."
People can submit information to the county auditor’s office that can help the auditor’s office evaluate what each property is worth. They can submit photos of the property and diagrams of erosion control to reflect the condition of the property as of January 1, 2020.
Harkless said that, in her opinion, leaders should have addressed the problems years ago. Now, she’ll have to pay to fix her own neighborhood, as she faces the possibility of having to pitch in to fix public property as well.
"My husband and I live strictly on Social Security. How am I going to pay twice?" Harkless said.
Voters in Geneva, Geneva Township and Geneva-on-the-Lake will decide during the March primary whether to approve a levy for Township Park. The Township Park board said that’s the quickest way to start shoring up the park and stop the problem from getting any worse, since the money would allow the board to apply for matching state and federal grants.