PARSONS – Chris Michael, Tucker County Assessor spoke to Tucker County Commissioners Wednesday and asked for their support on the passage of Senate Bill 16. Michael said currently, windmills are taxed at 5 percent of their market value.
“We have a $50 million project up there and if they were treated like a normal business, they would pay taxes on $30 million,” Michael said. “That would bring in roughly $400,000 a year to be split by the county and schools. The schools would receive about $280,000 and the county would get the $120,000.”
Michael said at the five percent salvage value the wind power companies were given by the West Virginia Legislature, the actual taxes they pay is about $20,000.
“This is a huge difference. Of this amount, the schools receive about $14,000 and the county gets $6,000,” Michael said. “Now the windmill companies have kicked in about $130,000 to the school system for a total of $144,000 to the schools. If this was not at salvage value, they schools on a new project would get about $280,000 and the county about $120,000.”
Michael said he has nothing against windmills, but said it seems it is too large of a difference on what other people have to pay on their taxes.
“I am supposed to watch our tax base and see that everyone is treated fairly and equally,” Michael said. “To me that seems excessive. There is a bill in the Legislature and the idea of that is to bring them up to what everyone else is paying.”
Commission President Lowell Moore said he understands there are nine West Virginia counties that have windmills.
“Grant County has the most windmills but they have the power plant and they may be under a different plan. They do not support this bill, but the other affected counties do support this bill,” Moore said. “The reason it is so urgent for Tucker County is because half of Tucker County is owned by state or Federal government and we get payment in lieu of taxes, but that amount is down. A lot of our area is under managed timber that we get little in taxes on. That leaves just a few people in Tucker County who carry the tax burden.”
Moore said he feels Senate Bill 16 is one the Commission should stand behind to help raise the tax base in Tucker County.
“It’s not asking for anything unfair,” Moore said. “I don’t have a thing in the world against windmills. But I think they need to be a financial asset to our county and our state – and right now, they are not.”
Moore said Mettiki Coal receives no county tax breaks but still budgets $60,000 for community projects.
“To be fair to Mettiki and any other business, I feel they should be assessed like every other business,” Moore said. “I don’t think that is asking too much. It is just trying to be a business partner in Tucker County and in the state.”
Commissioners said Senate Bill 16 is sponsored by Senator Dave Sypolt, R-Preston and Senator Randy Smith, R-Tucker. Moore said passage of the bill looks very favorable. Tucker County Commissioners voted unanimously to support Senate Bill 16.
Joy Showalter spoke during the public comment part of Wednesday’s meeting. She questioned Commissioners about her fire fee.
“They are sending us a bill that used to be $20 and now we are getting a bill for $65,” Showalter said. “Is that legal? Can they do us that way? It’s a volunteer fire department.”
Moore said the $65 was a request, not a bill. “It is my understanding it is a voluntary request. I would suggest you ask the fire department but I don’t think so.”
Showalter asked about the 911 fee on the power bills.
“What do you feel about that? Is that a mandatory fee?”
Commissioner Patrick Darlington said the fee is already on land-line phones and said it could move from the land-line to the power bill.
“The use of land-line phones has decreased so much over the last few years,” Darlington said. “It is not an increase – the fee could be moved from the land-line phones over to the power bills.”
“Mr. Darling(ton), it is not moving – it is staying there,” Showalter said.
“If that bill passes, the $1.50 will be moved from the land-line phone to the electric bill,” Moore said. “That money does come to the county, but the money that is generated between the land-line phones and cell phones is not enough to cover the 911 annual budget. We are short $100,000 each year.”
Moore said lots of folks no longer have land-line phones and if the bill passes, that fee would move from the land-line phones to the electric bills. “That will help the county out,” Moore said. “If it is passed, it will move from the phone bill to the power bill.”
“Do we have proof of that?” Showalter said.
“The bill has not passed yet,” Moore said.
“Can we vote on that?” Showalter said.
“No, it is in the Legislature,” Moore said.
“You can contact your Legislators,” Commissioner Diane Hinkle said. “This fee really levels the playing field because anybody who is not paying this fee will have to pay this fee on their electric bill.”
“Back in 2013 when they did the audit there was a lot of money that wasn’t accounted for, too,” Showalter said. “I was just wondering why we have all of this money and where it’s going in the audit of the 911 center.”
Darlington said he wanted to clarify a statement made by Showalter made on the 911 audit for 2013, 2014 and 2015.
“That was a payroll only audit – not a complete audit,” Darlington said. “The report and the audit did not show any missing funds or unappropriated funds. I want to clarify that. There were no findings in the audit. I wanted to make sure everyone was aware of that.”
Moore said the ADA compliant door openers were installed on the doors to the Annex.
The next Tucker County Commission meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. March 22 in the Tucker County Courthouse Courtroom.
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