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Mon Commission to consider extension of property, sales tax districts

MORGANTOWN — More than 2.3 million square feet of new development, private investment in excess of $561 million and nearly 4,500 jobs. 

Those numbers represent the economic impact made to date by the sales tax and property tax districts that comprise the Monongalia County Economic Opportunity Development District — think University Town Centre, The Gateway and WestRidge. 

Now the Monongalia County Commission and developer WestRidge, with an assist from the state legislature, are looking to extend the life of the district beyond 2050. 

The commission on Wednesday set public hearings for its June 7 meeting regarding the extension of both the TIF (property tax) and STIF (sales tax) districts. 

“I’m not sure the public realizes that everything we’ve done in WestRidge to date, there’s at least double that in land available,” WestRidge’s Ryan Lynch explained. “This is a long-term project. We can’t predict exactly what will be built where, but if Morgantown keeps growing, we’ll want to develop that land. This would give us the security to do it well into the future.”

The TIF district was originally created in 2012 with a 30-year life span. The proposed extension would add 15 years to the life of the district, extending it to 2057. 

At the implementation of a TIF district, a property tax base is set. For the life of the district, some levying bodies — in this instance the county, Granville and Westover — receive their share of that base number while any increase, or increment, that comes as a result of improvements goes back into infrastructure development for the district. 

Granville Mayor Patty Lewis said that’s currently about $510,000 annually that her town is missing out on. Once the district terminates, the town as well as the county and Westover, will see a substantial jump in property tax collections. 

“We understand state law does not require the commission to get Granville’s approval to extend the time period of the TIF, but the decision to extend the TIF or keep it at the same termination date is important for our town,” she said, noting a May 24 work session has been scheduled to discuss the issue. 

“Those funds could be used to fund our general operations, including upkeep of our streets and providing public safety — funds that could be used in the town of Granville,” she said.    

On the other side of that coin, data compiled by developer WestRidge indicates Granville takes in close to $4 million annually from businesses within the TIF and STIF districts through business and occupation taxes, occupancy taxes and the town’s base property tax allocation of $350,000. 

A summary of the districts provided by WestRidge also points out that any revenue realized by either Granville or Westover from that development is the result of voluntary annexation into the municipalities by the developer. 

The STIF, or sales tax, district is less controversial. Once a STIF is created, the sales taxes generated within the district return to the district, instead of going to the state. 

The STIF in question was created in 2013 with an original 30-year window. The extension to be considered would extend that window 10 years, to 2053. 

Passage of House Bill 3013 during the 2023 legislative session specifically permitted the extension of the Monongalia County STIF and the implementation of a sales tax district in Jefferson County. Another bill allowed for the extension of TIF districts statewide due to impacts of recession and COVID-19.

Commissioner Jeff Arnett said the commission’s job is to weigh the additional future capacity to develop within the district against the deferral of those additional property taxes. 

Commissioner Sean Sikora said that conversation is just getting started. 

“We had discussions about extending it. We have not had any formal discussions yet about what the plans are. We’re at the beginning. We needed to set the date for the public hearing,” he said. “By the time we get to the public hearing I expect a full, robust discussion of what we’re going to do with that extension, what we haven’t done with the current period and what the plans are going forward.” 

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