In 17 counties, property tax values have changed enough to warrant new classification, according to State Auditor Glen Gainer's office.
The majority of the 17 counties saw an increase in property taxes, largely due to the oil and gas industry, resulting in an increase in classification. Three counties decreased in classification.
“It really doesn't change much,” said Sam Rogers, the Ritchie County Commission president, whose county jumped three spots from a Class 7 to a Class 4. The classifications are used to determine the salaries of the elected county officials. There are 10 classifications and the lower the class, the higher the salary.
For county commissioners in Ritchie and Tyler, the increase in classifications means a raise of more than $8,000, if the funding is there and the request gets approved. The maximum county commissioner salary for a Class 7 county is $31,046.
In a Class 1 county, the county commissioner makes $41,395, the sheriff and assessor make $50,266, the county and circuit clerks make $62,093 and the prosecuting attorney makes $108,192. With each lower class, the salary is decreased by $2,464.
Beyond the increase of salary, the classifications don't mean much. Mostly, they're a reaction to property taxes that the counties have already seen.
While oil and gas have boosted counties in the northern part of the state, the southern part of the state has suffered from the decline of the coal industry.
One factor in property taxes is equipment. Basically, businesses like coal and oil bring in equipment to tap into some of the natural resources in the state. That equipment faces a property tax. But with coal companies in Southern West Virginia leaving and going bankrupt, that equipment is being moved, resulting in lower property taxes.
Boone and Mingo counties, both traditionally coal counties, have lost the most in property taxes over the past two years.
All three counties that dropped a classification were higher than class four, meaning that at one point they had some of the highest property values in the state.
While only three counties lost a classification, a lot of Southern West Virginia saw its property tax decreasing, with 10 counties reporting a decline.
This has led to tighter budgets in many counties as they try to account for lost revenue.
“We've had to cut in various places,” said Stephanie Sears, the staff accountant for Fayette County.
There were 14 counties that saw an increase in classification. Ritchie and Tyler Counties saw the biggest increase, moving up three spots. Braxton and Doddridge, who saw the biggest increase in property value over two years at 88 percent, moved up two classifications. Barbour, Brooke, Hampshire, Jackson, Monroe, Pendleton, Randolph Summers, Taylor and Wetzel counties all moved up one.
Three counties, Boone, Fayette, and Wyoming, all dropped one spot in the classifications. Of the three counties, Wyoming now has the lowest classification at Class 4.
In a news release, Gainer said, “We are seeing an unprecedented shift in local government revenue.”
Reach Daniel Desrochers at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-4886 or follow @drdesrochers on Twitter.