Scrutinize Plant Plan Carefully

How many times have Ohio Valley taxpayers heard the phrase “due diligence” – and found out some of their elected officials had not exercised it? Too often. And when that happens, it can be expensive for local governments and school districts.

Last weekend, Marshall County Commissioner Bob Miller announced he will not support a proposed gas-fired power plant a company plans to build near Moundsville.

Commissioners are a key element in the plan, which is an exceedingly complex one using a payment in lieu of taxes, or?PILOT arrangement. That means the Buffalo, N.Y., company formed to build and run the plant would be exempted from paying property taxes for 30 years, in exchange for cash payments to local government entities including the county and the school system.

Both commissioners and the Marshall County Board of Education have agreed tentatively to that plan.

Another aspect of the proposal is that once the plant is completed, the county would become its official owner. Moundsville Power LLC, the Buffalo-based company, would lease the facility from commissioners for about $31 million over 30 years.

Miller has reservations about the financing plan. He points out it inserts government into a traditionally private-enterprise endeavor, that other companies such as American Electric Power pay full property taxes, and that a better way to improve the economy is to lower taxes on everyone.

He is absolutely right. But PILOTs and other public-financing arrangements have become relatively common. The Moundsville Power deal is nothing new – in that respect.

And, as far as the company not paying full-rate property taxes, it needs to be remembered that if it is not built, the county will get nothing.

Miller’s other major concern is about the county being the plant’s official owner. He worries about liability issues that may be unforeseen now, but could be devastating to the county budget in the future.

He is absolutely right to have reservations on that score. His fellow commissioners, Don Mason and Brian Schambach, do not agree with Miller’s decision to oppose county involvement. Schambach termed Miller’s announcement “premature.” He and Mason noted a final agreement with Moundsville Power has not yet been signed by commissioners.

Both Schambach and Mason also pledged to investigate and consider the plan carefully to safeguard Marshall County residents’ interests.

All three commissioners should be involved in that, not just exercising “due diligence” but going to extreme scrutiny of the proposal. The stakes, either way, are very high – with no room for error that could cost Marshall Countians dearly.