Rectify Property Tax Break Error

Thousands of Marshall County residents may have to pay higher than necessary property taxes in the future, because of what amounts to a gigantic “oops!” by state legislators. Obviously, what seems to have been an error needs to be rectified as quickly as possible.

In large measure due to the gas drilling boom during recent years, property values in some counties have increased dramatically. The higher the property value base, the more revenue taxing bodies collect -if they keep tax rates at old levels. That has prompted some county commissions and boards of education to lower levy rates.

But Marshall County commissioners have learned of a game changer in that regard. Though gas companies have invested about $900 million in new plants within the county during the past tax year, very little of that will be taxable.

Only 5 percent of the $900 million in new equipment can be taxed, according to Marshall County Assessor Chris Kessler and Commissioner Robert Miller.

It seems that in 2011, when state officials were doing all in their power to bring an ethane cracker plant to West Virginia, legislators approved a tax break aimed at companies planning such facilities. In effect, the bill lowers a firm’s property tax bill to only 5 percent of a plant’s value for the first 10 years it is in operation.

Though the measure was targeted at a cracker plant, it also affects other industrial facilities – including the new gas industry equipment in Marshall County and elsewhere.

Kessler and Miller point out that because Marshall County cannot collect more property taxes from developers of those plants, they cannot lower rates as much as they would like to benefit other taxpayers.

Revoking the tax break for plants already built would be unfair, of course. It also might be illegal.

Still, state legislators should look closely at the situation and do what they can to rectify the oversight. At the very least, they should consider eliminating the break for gas processing plants that, beyond any doubt, will be built in West Virginia during the next few years.