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West Virginia lawmakers hear from county representatives on property tax amendment

Jonathan Adler, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, presented data to lawmakers Monday showing how much counties assess in property tax assessments. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

CHARLESTON — A lobbyist group representing county elected officials told lawmakers Monday that they have taken no official stance on a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would give lawmakers the authority to lower or eliminate property taxes, but a full elimination could mean substantial losses to county budgets.

Members of the Joint Committee on Finance heard from Jonathan Adler, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, the lobbyist group that represents county commissions and other county elected officials.

“The association does not have a position at this time. We’ve not taken a vote one way or the other,” Adler told lawmakers. “We want to go forward in a good faith effort.”

Adler was joined by county assessors from Tucker, Harrison, Monongalia, and Randolph counties. Adler and the county assessor group presented data to the committee showing county real tax dollar assessments covering tax years 2015 through 2021 for all 55 counties. The assessor group worked with Fairmont-based information technology company Global Science and Technology Inc. to collect the data.

The group’s goal is to determine possible outcomes for counties should the Property Tax Modernization Amendment – also known as Amendment 1 – is adopted by voters in November. The Legislature adopted House Joint Resolution 3 during the 2021 regular session, putting the Property Tax Modernization Amendment before voters.

The proposed amendment to the West Virginia Constitution, if adopted by voters, would provide the Legislature with authority to exempt tangible machinery and equipment, tangible inventory, and motor vehicles from personal property taxation. The amendment would allow lawmakers to either phase these taxes out or eliminate them entirely.

According to the report presented Monday by the West Virginia Association of Counties, the total dollar amount of assessments for tax year 2021 was more than $515.2 million for all 55 counties combined. Assessments ranged from a high of $60 million for Kanawha County to more than $443,000 for Calhoun County.

Compared to the $575.6 million in total gross tax dollar assessments in tax year 2015, property tax collections have dropped more than 10.5 percent over a seven-year period. Adler explained that the drop was due to taxation of manufacturing equipment.

County governments and county school systems rely on personal property taxes for most of their budgets, causing some heartburn for county officials who want to make sure new tax revenue streams or other sources of funding are put in place before any personal property taxes are eliminated.

“We want to see that backfill in perpetuity,” Adler said. “If the numbers and the math doesn’t work as we get down this process, then I don’t know that we can be supportive of it. I mean, that’s got to be really the key.”

“But the association generally stands willing to work with us if we attempt to deliver the people of West Virginia a reduction or an elimination of the taxes on their cars and trucks while also maintaining the funding to the counties,” asked Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell.

“Yeah, that’s why we are here,” Adler said.

It was also pointed out by Randolph County Assessor Phyllis K. Yokum that the $515.2 million in county real tax assessments for tax year 2021 is different than what is actually being collected. County officials are still working to collect data on what is actually being paid to counties versus what is being assessed.

“In collections, that part has to come from the Sheriff’s Office, because the Assessor doesn’t collect taxes; we do the assessment,” Yokum said.

“We know what should be coming into that county. The collections, on the other hand come, they’re actually collected in the Sheriff’s Office. So, they have that data, which we’re trying to work on to get.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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