|COMMISSION WANTS PROPOSED COLUMBIA TAX DEAL APPLIED TO SCHOOL DEFICIT|
The Calhoun Commission heard initial tax proposals from Columbia Pipeline officials Tuesday regarding the proposed location of a $94 million compressor station in a remote area of northern Calhoun near the Ritchie County line.
The compressor is part of a $2 billion 165 miles Mountaineer Xpress 36" pipeline project that crosses several state counties.
The Columbia Pipeline filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission places the project in Ritchie County, although the property where the proposed compressor is planned is in Calhoun.
The commission has been advised the taxation proceeds will come to Calhoun.
The project will give a boost to the stagnant tax coffers of the county, although there are issues that need resolved with county assessors in Ritchie and Calhoun regarding the taxation of the property.
"We are fortunate to have an unusual situation for county government. Namely, how to divide a large sum of money. At this time, it appears that the payment in lieu of taxes program (PILOT) will be best for county government and particularly good for the school system," said commissioner Chip Westfall.
"With a 50/50 split, county government will receive about the same amount as the normal taxation process, and the
Calhoun County School system will receive more than 5 times the money than it would through the normal taxation process," Westfall said.
The school system would be majorly penalized without the PILOT agreement, with the state reducing funding with the per pupil funding formula.
The commission said they would consider the PILOT program if the funds could be applied to the county school system's $1.7 million deficit.
The school's Chief Financial Officer Dan Minney indicated that would be very difficult do.
School Board president Steve Whited said the deficit issue is based on revenues, not on money owed. "Our bills are paid," he said, "It becomes a very complicated problem."
School officials said it might me 30 years to reduce the deficit, unless the funding formula is changed or a levy is passed.
Commission president Bob Weaver suggested the system seek counsel to make sure the money is spent on deficit issue line items, with Whited indicating they would work on the issue.
CFO Dan Minney indicated the deficit is rising to over $2 million with the latest budget cuts coming from the state, but a report later said his figure involve different issues.
Board president Steve Whited said the actual deficit was reduced this year by about $100,000 to about $1,700,000.
Commissioner Kevin Helmick said, "Representing the County Commission, my main responsibly should be to look out for the county budget first. But I believe giving Columbia a 25% discount will work in the long run as long as we get a 50/50 split with the school system."
"I want this pilot program to really help both the county and the schools. My primary concern with the school system is to make sure the money is spent on the school's deficit."
"I think they should be held accountable as to where the money is going. If they can't do that, I would be just as happy allowing the project run its course with regular taxation," Helmick said.
"A budget is a budget no matter what kind of accounting system is being used. They should be able to pin point what line items are in the red and apply the money for deficit reduction," Helmick concluded.
Commission president Bob Weaver said, "If we do not accept the PILOT program, "The school will get a peanut. With Calhoun being the only county in West Virginia with a deficit, we are vitally concerned that our children get an education and the deficit is eliminated."
The commission moved to have Columbia Pipeline to proceed with a memo of understanding, with legal review and approval by an attorney and further consideration by the commission.
Representing Columbia Pipeline at the meeting, Steve Whiting, Director of Tax; Brittany Carns, manager of Community Relations and Stakeholder Outreach and Lisa Daugherty, GBQ Partners, senior manager.
The commission will hold a public meeting after the memo of understanding is received from Columbia at which time detailed numbers will be released regarding tax benefits.
In addition to school system CFO Dan Minney and school board president Steve Whited attending the meeting, Assessor Jason Nettles, County Clerk Jean Simers, Sheriff Carl Ballangee, and a number of school officials also attended.
See related story COMMISSIONER WESTFALL SAYS $100 MILLION COLUMBIA COMPRESSOR STATION WILL BE IN CALHOUN