A story which ran in the Charleston [WV] Gazette brought to light a tax break given to Triple C Equipment by the Board of Equalization in February of 2008.
The Board of Equalization is a group taxpayers can appeal to when and if they feel they may be entitled to relief of some or all of the property taxes assessed by the state tax department. At its meetings, the Board hears from businesses and individuals who ask for these breaks for various reasons.
The Board is made up of the county commission for each county. The state tax department has representatives at each Equalization meeting. Jerry Maynard, an appraiser with the state, attended the 2008 meeting in question
At that meeting, the Board heard 14 cases. Ten of those cases were appeals for tax relief. Some of the arguments for tax reduction included the value of rolling stock and inflated value of minerals and other assets.
Of those ten requests, nine were reduced, although not always by as much as the taxpayer requested. The one request that was not granted at that meeting was not denied, but the Board requested further documentation before coming to a decision.
“These tax bills are set by the state tax department,” County Commission President John Mark Hubbard explained to the Daily News. “The state comes in on the ‘high end’ of what property is worth, and the property owners, of course, come in on the low end.”
He said it is the job of the Board of Equalization to find a solution to the issue.
“Each county commission does this,” Hubbard said. He said the commissions want to make it easier for companies to do business in their counties. He added that by being more familiar with individual companies and types of businesses, county commissions can often place a more accurate value on property in their county.
“For example, the state doesn’t bring into account wear and tear on equipment,” Commissioner David Baisden said. “They don’t realize some mining equipment is used for up to 20 hours a day, and that will reduce the value of that equipment.”
In the case of the relief granted to Triple C, the company had ordered some equipment, specifically a continuous miner and a feeder, for a mine that ultimately did not open.
The miner remained in a warehouse until it was later sold. The feeder was not delivered to Triple C, and was never in the county, the company said.
The reasoning was that the equipment had reduced value to the company, as it was not being used to produce income.
Maynard, with the state tax department, said at the meeting he felt the tax should be paid. The Board disagreed and voted to allow the exoneration of taxes on the equipment which was approximately $35,000.
There is a 30 period in which parties who feel such tax adjustments have been made in error can appeal decision made by the Equalization Board. No appeals were made in reference to the Triple C decision.
Mingo County commissioners recently asked the West Virginia Tax Department if their actions were illegal. An attorney for the state department, Jan Mudrinich, said the 30 day appeal period begins from the day of the decision to exonerate, and that after that period, there is a strong argument that the time for appeals is over.
“This improper piece [in the Gazette] creates the impression they didn’t pay any taxes,” Triple C Equipment lawyer Erwin Conrad said. “But between 2005 and 2009, Triple C has in fact paid $101,823 in taxes to the county.”
As to the question of whether the tax exoneration is headed for court, the Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks issued a statement that said, in part, that the state tax department did not refer the case to that office for prosecution.
“The department merely nullified the Triple C Equipment property tax exoneration. Triple C has since disputed whether the state tax department maintains authority to nullify the exoneration more than two years after the fact. . . . it is soley a civil matter that will ultimately be resolved by civil process. No crime has been committed,” the statement said.
Conrad said he felt the story in the Charleston newspaper is part of the election campaign going on in Mingo County.
He said the company does business and pays taxes in the county, which helps Mingo County.
“Triple C is being used as a political pawn,” Conrad said. “The company does not appreciate being dragged into a political campaign for use of the candidates.”