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Railroads' request for assessment changes denied

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Even with a downward adjustment of $25 million, the Board of Public Works Monday approved 2013 property tax assessments of $8.95 billion for public utilities and railroads operating in the state.That's an increase of $489 million over last year, which will work out to about an $11 million increase in property tax collections for counties, state Property Tax Division director Jeff Amburgy told the board.Under state law, the board -- made up of the governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and state superintendent of schools -- must approve annual property valuations for all utilities operating in the state, including water, natural gas, electric and telephone companies, as well as railroads.In November, three companies -- railroad giants CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern, and a small water utility in Jefferson County -- appealed their preliminary tax assessments.On Monday, following recommendations of the Tax Department, the board denied the appeals of the two railroads, whose representatives had argued the assessments failed to account for a downturn in coal shipments, which account for 25 percent of CSX revenue and a major portion of Norfolk Southern's business.The tax assessment for CSX remained at $493.7 million, while the Norfolk Southern assessment remained $499 million.However, board members approved a tax break for Jefferson Utilities, a small, 2,400-customer water company in the Eastern Panhandle, reducing its assessed value from $3.03 million to $2.24 million.The bulk of the $25 million in reductions came from two underground natural gas storage companies, which successfully argued that they should not be assessed for a total of $17.7 million of stored natural gas, since the gas belongs to utilities and other customers, who will be assessed taxes on it at the county level.
Also Monday:* The board approved the transfer of three parcels of property to the state Department of Transportation, in order to make improvements to the intersection of U.S. 119 and State Route 705 on the Mileground in Morgantown.One of the parcels is owned by the Monongalia County Board of Education, and two by the West Virginia University Board of Governors.The largest parcel, valued at $1.8 million, is currently part of the WVU dairy farm, prompting Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass to ask if the proceeds could be dedicated to the WVU College of Agriculture."I would appreciate knowing if they're considering that money going to the college," he said.Auditor Glen Gainer noted that disbursement of the $1.8 million would be up to the WVU Board of Governors.* It was the final board meeting for Douglass, who has served on the board for 44 years, and for Attorney General Darrell McGraw, who leaves with 20 years of service.
Reach Phil Kabler at or 304-348-1220.
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