Last year’s natural gas pipeline construction boom was the key factor in a $1.376 billion jump in the assessed value of property owned by public utility companies in West Virginia, according to a report Monday to the state Board of Public Works.
If that assessment is approved by the board in December without revisions, it would mean a surge of more than $30 million in property tax collection for counties and municipalities, state Property Tax Division Director Jeff Amburgy said in the report to the board.
“This increase is mainly attributable to a large increase in taxable capital investment being made in the pipeline industry,” he stated. “Many pipeline companies continue to invest in additional assets associated with compression and transportation of natural gas.”
Amburgy didn’t get to present his report to the board during a surreal 2 minute, 20 second-long meeting chaired by Gov. Jim Justice.
For each agenda item Monday, Justice called for a motion to approve, a second, and a passage vote in immediate succession — without ever calling for discussion of the motion.
None of the members of the board — made up of the governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and state superintendent of schools or their designees — challenged Justice.
In fact, Amburgy had stood to give his presentation to the board, as he does each autumn, only to have Justice immediately call for a vote on the motion.
At one point, Justice commented on the board’s lack of discussion, saying, “Great time of day, you all, surely you want to talk about something.”
Under state law, the board must approve Tax Division assessments of property owned by utilities, which are broadly defined to include railroads, airlines and bus companies, telephone and cellphone providers, along with traditional utilities, including electric, natural gas, and water and sewer companies.
For the 2020 tax year, the tentative assessed value of all public utility properties total $12.56 billion, up 12.3 percent, or $1.376 billion, from the previous year.
The value of pipelines in the state jumped 41.2 percent, from $2.4 billion last year to $3.397 billion.
Last week, Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow told legislators that the surge in pipeline construction was a significant factor in a 12 percent jump in tax collection in the 2018-19 budget year, and that the current downturn in pipeline construction — either through completion of projects or projects halted by court order — is a prime factor for current budget shortfalls.
Currently, the value of pipeline properties is second only to electric utilities, which, at $5.85 billion, saw a $172 million, or 3 percent, increase in assessments.
With two exceptions, most utilities will see their property assessments increase in the 2020 tax year.
The exceptions are noncellular communications providers, down 11.6 percent to $203.4 million, and airlines, down 6.9 percent to $7.88 billion.
Normally, the board sets a meeting date, usually in November, to give representatives of public utilities the opportunity to challenge any of the tentative assessments. However, Justice recessed Monday’s meeting without taking up the agenda item to set a meeting date for that hearing.