Miller Serious on Using Pension Funds for Plant

MOUNDSVILLE – Marshall County Commissioner Bob Miller said it was not a joke when he suggested to union representatives at a meeting last week they use pension funds to invest in the proposed Moundsville Power LLC plant instead of the county purchasing the property.

Last week, Walter “Fuzz” LaRue from the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation and Keith Hughes, business manager at Ironworkers Local No. 549 in Wheeling, attended the commission meeting to urge commissioners to support the Payment in Lieu of Tax program for the $615 million plant. The said union construction workers had signed a contract with the company to use their services if the plant construction should proceed.

Under the proposed PILOT agreement, the commission would take official ownership of the plant for $1, while the company would lease the facility from the county. The plant would be on a 37.5-acre tract, some of which is classified as a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Commissioners would receive about $31 million in lease payments over 30 years via the PILOT plan – or about $13 million less than they would collect if the plant paid normal property taxes.

During a debate between commissioners at last week’s meeting, Miller, who opposed the county buying the plant, said he suggested union representatives use collected national union pension funds to purchase the plant, freeing the county from purchasing the property. He said his remark was not noted in the minutes of the July 22 meeting and wanted to add his comments to the record.

“I would like that noted that it was a serious, not a flippant, remark,” Miller said. “I’m sorry if it was expressed that way. ‘It’s a good investment’ is what they said and I believe they are sincere in their belief. They should consider using dollars they normally wouldn’t get from their pension to go back into the valley for the next 30 years to benefit them and their kids and their grandkids. That’s an extra $160 million the county would have and we’re union labor friendly and a lot of that would be going back to them. So that was a serious suggestion.”

Miller said he opposes the idea of government owning a private business and is concerned about the liabilities the county could face should something happen with the plant under the county’s ownership. If the plant was owned by union workers, he said, they would pay full taxes to the county and will have an investment in a property that could increase in value over the next 30 years.

Miller also said the tax money the county would lose under the PILOT plan could instead be used for the county’s ongoing projects that use union labor.

“It was a legitimate possible solution,” Miller said after the meeting. “This would be a great way to solve the problem with liability. … We’re limited to $30 million in lieu of property taxes under the PILOT. … We need revenue to continue to do projects and we always use union labor.”

Hughes said there are investment funds – such as the Erect Fund and AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust – that use collected union pension money to help finance different projects across the country. He said although it would have been possible for pension money to fund the plant, there are too many time restraints on the plant project. He added such investments are usually made at the very beginning of a project.

LaRue agreed, and added although it’s possible to use pension funds for the project, it would take months to go through the federal rules and regulations.

Moundsville Power “wants this thing up and running as soon as possible,” LaRue said. “I’m not saying it’s impossible, but you just don’t do it overnight. We’re under federal guidelines and we have set rules we have to follow.”