Resolution for Boy Scouts moves forward
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A resolution that passed the House of Delegates Wednesday would pave the way for the Boy Scouts' Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Fayette County to rent its facilities to the public without jeopardizing its property tax exemption.
House Joint Resolution 108 calls for a constitutional amendment to be put on the ballot during the November general election.
The "Nonprofit Youth Organization Tax Exempt Support Amendment" would exempt certain nonprofit youth groups to generate revenue by leasing their facilities if the facility was constructed at a cost of more than $100 million.
Dan McCarthy, director of The Summit, applauded lawmakers' efforts. He called the amendment a "win-win."
"When the Boy Scouts started talking to the state of West Virginia seriously, part of the commitment was using the site as a venue for the state where large events could be held," McCarthy said. "We realized this was a facility unlike any other in the state."
The resolution passed 94-2 in the House, and is now awaiting action in the Senate.
Delegate Adam R. Young, D-Nicholas, a co-sponsor of the joint resolution, said the exemption would be an economic boon for the region.
"I think it can have outreaching impact in every county that touches Fayette (County) and beyond," Young said.
"When you bring in something like that, there's bound to be economic development because the more people you bring into the area, the more money they'll be putting into the area, so I see it as a total positive."
The 10,600-acre Summit Bechtel Family Reserve features a stadium that can seat 80,000 people and numerous sports facilities, including a skate park, BMX facility and shooting ranges McCarthy described as "among the largest in the nation."
He said many organizations have contacted him to inquire about renting parts of the reserve, but he has had to turn them all away because of the current state law.
"We would jeopardize our tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization if we were to lease it out for other than our own use or related use or development," McCarthy said.
"If someone came to us and asked us, 'We would like to host a concert in your stadium,' we would have to say 'No, we can't do that,' because then the property tax would come to us."
But some lawmakers fear the loophole would give the Boy Scouts an unfair advantage over for-profit businesses and cut into their profits.
"We are very excited about the continued development of the Boy Scout adventure camp, which holds great economic and tourism potential for Southern West Virginia," said Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette.
"But we were concerned that a tax-exempt entity like the Boy Scouts could profit at the expense of our local businesses."
Delegates Perry and Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, amended the legislation in the House to add an extra layer of protection for businesses. The amendment to the legislation delays implementation of the tax exemption until the Legislature can adopt laws to protect local and regional businesses from unreasonable losses.
"We want to protect local businesses that could be in competition with the business activities that the Boy Scouts might undertake," Staggers said. "It would be unfair to allow the operations of the Boy Scouts to directly compete with local businesses, since the Boy Scouts are tax exempt."
McCarthy said The Summit would not be competing with local businesses because it offers facilities "that don't exist anywhere else."
He said The Summit worked hand-in-hand with area businesses during the 2013 Jamboree, citing the use of private whitewater rafting outfitters to give Scouts the opportunity to raft the New River.
He said the Boy Scouts' support of the property tax exemption is not profit-motivated. Instead, it would spur further economic development by bringing more people into the state.
"My intent here is not to compete with local businesses, it's to provide opportunities that don't exist today in local businesses," McCarthy said. "It's not about us, it's about bringing more people into the state, and we hope that will be the outcome."
McCarthy said any money brought in from leasing The Summit to private parties would be used to support the facility.