West Virginia Supreme Court sides with University Park in assessment dispute

MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled on behalf of University Park at Evansdale in a multi-year legal battle with the Monongalia County Assessor’s office regarding the tax liability of the property for the 2015 tax year.

The court, in an opinion filed Thursday and issued by Justice Beth Walker, said the assessed value of the property is $0.

University Park is a $90 million public-private student housing development near WVU’s Evansdale Campus.

The university owns the land; the facility was leased to the developer, who paid for the construction of the project. The facility was then subleased back to WVU for the purposes of offering, managing and operating the student housing.

In January 2015, County Assessor Mark Musick assessed the lease for University Park at more than $9 million.

University Park objected to the amount and took the case to the Monongalia County Commission, which acts as the Board of Equalization and Review (BER).

The BER declined to change the assessment, saying it was out of its jurisdiction. University Park appealed that ruling to Mon County Circuit Court, where Judge Lawrance S. Miller Jr. sided with the BER.

University Park then appealed to the Supreme Court. During arguments before the high court in March of 2017, University Park’s attorney stated that it should be taxed at $0 because its value in the lease is no different than WVU’s. WVU is not taxable as a state entity.

The Supreme Court previously found the issue is one of valuation, not taxation, with the crux being whether University Park’s lease holds a different or bargain value from WVU’s interest. As a result, the high court sent the case back to the lower court.

In his ruling, Miller ruled that University Park showed in its evidence that Musick’s assessment was incorrect and that its interest has no value different from WVU’s. Musick also previously testified that the lease was not different.

As a result, Miller wrote, the taxation should be set at $0. Musick appealed that decision, resulting in Thursday’s ruling.

County Commission President Tom Bloom said the commission has collected about $750,000 in taxes from University Park since 2015.

He said the portion of that amount from 2015 will be returned and discussions will be held as to whether additional legal recourse will be taken in pursuit of taxes from the 2016 and 2017 tax years.

“We’re going to meet with our attorney and take a look at the ruling,” Bloom said.

When asked if he anticipated additional efforts to go after taxes for 2016 and 2017, Bloom said, “That would be Mark’s decision, but I think we will have some input on that.”

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