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Statoil Sues Marshall County Over Property Tax

MOUNDSVILLE — Denied a refund of almost $350,000 in property taxes the company says it overpaid to Marshall County, Norwegian shale driller Statoil is seeking relief through the courts.

Marshall County Assessor Chris Kessler said his office has received a summons in a civil suit filed by Statoil in circuit court. Judge Jeffrey Cramer will preside over the case, but no hearing dates have been set. Kessler and West Virginia State Tax Commissioner Mark Matkovich are named as defendants in the suit.

Similar suits have yet to be filed in other Northern Panhandle counties, where much larger sums of money are at issue — $2.9 million in Ohio County and $1.4 million in Wetzel County, where commissioners also denied refund requests. Brooke County commissioners have yet to act on Statoil’s request for a $1.8 million refund.

Statoil has said the overpayments were the result of a “clerical error.”

Kessler, who had previously been involved in Statoil’s initial appeal to the county commission, said the county maintains its position that although a clerical error may have been initially responsible for the overpayment, the firm’s failure to double-check and catch the error in a timely manner amounts to negligence.

“I believe the evidence that we presented speaks for itself, and we’re going to follow that same evidence,” Kessler said. “For an exoneration to be approved, there has to be a clerical error which is easily identifiable, or an unintentional act, as opposed to a negligent act. … There was ample opportunity and ample timeframe that the clerical error should have been caught and corrected.”

Kessler said the error stemmed from a difference in reporting estimated production figures versus actual production.

Statoil spokesman Peter Simons said Thursday the company will continue monitoring the situation.

“Generally speaking, at this point, we’re assessing all of our legal options,” Simons said. “We certainly respect the process, and that’s what this is, so we’ll go through the process, and when that day comes up we’ll assess our options at that point.”

Simons said Statoil maintains its position that the overpayment was due to a clerical error.

Statoil met with Marshall County commissioners in June, who returned two weeks later to decline their request for a refund in a 2-1 decision, with commissioner Bob Miller arguing in favor of refunding the $342,000.

He was outvoted by commission President Stan Stewart and Commissioner Scott Varner.

Miller said he objected to the use of money collected in error, and felt the money wasn’t rightfully the county’s to keep.

“They weren’t trying to cheat us out of money,” he said. “It’s in excess of what they should have owed. Everyone hates to give up the money, but it’s not our money, in my opinion.”

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