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Bloom remains president, commission talks taxes to start 2019

MORGANTOWN — During its first meeting of 2019, the Monongalia County Commission elected to keep Commissioner Tom Bloom in the president’s chair for another year and passed three measures tied to the refunding of property taxes for two of WVU’s private development partners.
The refunds pertain to just over $2.8 million, plus $219,674.60 in interest, owed to the developers of University Park at Evansdale and West Virginia Campus Housing.
A November ruling from the West Virginia Supreme Court ended nearly four years of litigation and ultimately sided with the developers, explaining that the properties — well in excess of $100 million in development, combined — should not have been assessed by the county since WVU is a state entity and thereby exempt from such taxes.
The trio of items passed on Wednesday set the refund and interest amounts and laid out a plan for how the county will reimburse those tax dollars with the understanding it will recoup much of that money from the various taxing entities to which the funds were distributed starting in 2015. The funds were disbursed with the understanding the money may need to be paid back pending the legal outcome.
Those bodies include the state, the county, the Monongalia County Board of Education, the BOE excess levy, the BOE bond levy, the City of Morgantown and, starting in 2016, excess levies tied to public transportation, volunteer fire departments, recreation and libraries.
The commission voted Wednesday to cover half the interest owed by each of the BOE concerns, the city and the state, and all of the interest owed by the levying bodies.
“I feel this is a fair thing to pay half,” Commissioner Ed Hawkins said. “To take a hard line and demand that all these entities pay this interest, I didn’t think was in the best interest of everybody.”
Under this arrangement, the refunds (and interest) to be paid by each are:
State — $10,808.02 ($425.05)
County — $517,695.11 ($133,276.77)
BOE — $834,968.19 ($32,814.98)
BOE excess levy — $724,643.28 ($28,556.67)
BOE bond levy — $82,640.81 ($3,348.73)
Morgantown — $540,431.45 ($21,252.40)
Transportation levy — $43,631.80
Fire levy — $15,571.55
Recreation levy — $23,006.00
Library levy — $10,709.66
The commission is still awaiting a court order for the 2018 tax year. Pending receipt of that order, Commissioner Sean Sikora said, “we’ll be ready to make the full payment. The actual request will be in the vouchers for next week. We’ll approve that sitting in our meeting next week and a check will be cut that day.”
Sikora said representatives from the West Virginia’s Auditor’s Office will meet with the commission today in an effort to expedite the needed amendments to the county budget.
The commission met with representatives of the city and BOE during a Wednesday afternoon work session to discuss the repayment plan.
In other county news, the commission:
— Altered its rules of procedure for the management of its regular meetings to observe an ethics ruling regarding the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of each meeting.
“The ACLU declared that, the point is, we should not ask people to rise for the pledge. However, we may stand up and if the body public chooses to stand up, so be it,” Hawkins said. “But the ACLU has decided that it was not correct that we would ask you to stand up.”
Additionally, the commission will hold its moment of silent meditation and recitation of the pledge prior to calling the meeting to order.
— Appointed outgoing Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, to the WV Route 2 and Interstate 68 Authority.
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