The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

March 9, 2013

Fayette's increase in property values decreases tax rate

FAYETTEVILLE — Fayette County’s property tax rate will decrease slightly this year, due to a jump in property values brought about by a statewide push to assess those values more accurately. The rate moves from 14.3 percent to 14.22 percent for class 1 property.

“We see that as good news for the citizens of the county,” Fayette County Commission President Matthew Wender said Friday.

The state recently did a statewide tax study, which found that properties that sold or were new construction were valued more than properties that hadn’t sold or that were older. Basically, assessed values were low compared to what properties were selling for.

Fayette County Assessor Eddie Young is now trying to equalize everything and assess all new and recently sold properties evenly with older ones.

As a result, there was a significant increase in property values in the county this year as Young’s office raised the assessments.

They certified those new values at the beginning of March and now it’s time for all the county’s levying bodies to set the tax rates.

The maximum a county can charge is 14.3 percent, which was Fayette’s rate last year. The state auditor guides rates.

“When our values were up so much this year, the auditor said, ‘OK, your rate needs to be less than the ones last year,’” explains Young.

Without a rollback of the tax rate, the increase in values would have resulted in a jump in property taxes.

The commission chose to go with the suggested rate of 14.22 percent, rather than keep last year’s rate.

“My hope is that with values being up, the board of ed (and other levying bodies) will also be able to roll their rates back a little bit,” said Young.

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The discussion with Young kicked off the commission’s meeting Friday, when they heard funding requests for the coming fiscal year from several county agencies.

Some of the major funding requests this budget session are:

- Extension services — $54,736

- prosecuting attorney — $855,148

- assessor’s office —$464,542

- sheriff’s department — $3,997,952 (includes Regional Jail, treasurer, law enforcement, community corrections and other categories)

- county clerk’s office — $398,882

- Fayette County Park — $778,227

- Central Garage — $267,382

- circuit clerk’s office — $402,886

- resource coordinator’s office — $112,390

- maintenance —$651,833

The prosecuting attorney’s budget request was $163,313 more than was allocated for the office last year.

Prosecuting Attorney Carl Harris reports that juvenile cases have risen more than 20 percent, the criminal caseload is increased and there are more magistrate cases than before. He’s asking to hire another lawyer and a secretary.

“There is certainly a trend for increased criminal activity in the county, most of which is related directly or indirectly to illegal controlled substances,” he wrote to the commission in a letter.

The sheriff’s department is asking for increased funding for a secretary, courthouse security, overtime, longevity pay, uniform allowance, pay increase for a forensic specialist and additional vehicles.

Regional jail costs this year are estimated at $900,000, which is an increase of $100,000 over last year.

Sheriff Steve Kessler says the county’s day report center has kept Fayette out of the kind of trouble some other counties are seeing with their jail bills. Harris anticipates that the day report center will be looking at a larger facility in the future.

But on the other hand, with more drug task force work, arrests are on the rise.

“I understand trying to reduce your jail costs, but from the sheriff’s point of view, I have people saying ‘Arrest these people, do more.’ It’s kind of a vicious cycle,” he told the commission.

A move to all iVotronic electronic voting machines and a new part-time staffer are the requests of the Fayette County Clerk’s Office.

The Fayette County Park would like a raise for three workers and some capital expenditures for new equipment like a riding mower, weed-eaters and generators.

The circuit clerk’s office is asking for a $2,000 salary increase for each deputy clerk.

Mountain Transit Authority (MTA), which serves Fayette, Webster, Nicholas and Greenbrier counties, is hoping the commission will grant them a $4,000 contribution, plus $7,874 for an advertising campaign designed to increase the public’s awareness of their services in the county.

MTA says the ridership in Fayette doesn’t reflect its potential.

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Harris briefly discussed with the commission how Frasure Creek Mining’s current bankruptcy case in the state of Kentucky could affect Fayette County, where the company has its only remaining operational mining complex.

Currently, the company owes the county $1,781,526 in property taxes. The taxes are not yet delinquent, and Harris reports that the company’s taxes for last year are paid.

Harris said the county would need an attorney in Kentucky to represent its interests in the case, which is in its early stages.

The county is hiring a new fire coordinator and a new director of emergency management to replace Steve Cruikshank, who will retire in April.

The commission voted to offer the fire position to William Joseph Crist at $35,000 per year, and the director role to Jim Sizemore at $42,500 per year.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com

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