No utility companies raised objections to their annual property tax assessments Monday, paving the way for the Board of Public Works to approve total property valuations of $12.56 billion for the coming tax year — an increase of $1.376 billion.
That will increase property tax collections for counties and municipalities around the state by more than $30 million, according to state Property Tax Division director Jeff Amburgey.
Natural gas pipeline construction statewide accounted for most of that jump, as the value of pipelines in the state jumped 41.2 percent, from $2.4 billion last year to $3.397 billion.
Cessation of pipeline construction in the state this summer and fall, as projects have either been completed, or put on hold by court challenges, is a contributing factor in the $33.26 million state revenue shortfall so far in the 2019-20 budget year.
For the second meeting in a row, no 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 — raised questions or offered any discussion of agenda items.
However, unlike the September meeting, Gov. Jim Justice, chairing the board, on Monday called for discussion. During the September meeting, Justice called for a motion to approve, a second, and a passage vote in rapid succession — without ever calling for discussion of the motion, as required under Robert’s Rule of Order, Jeffersonian Rules, and parliamentary procedure.
Once the most powerful body in state government with authority to devise the state budget, one of the board’s most important remaining responsibilities is annual approval of Tax Department assessments of property owned by public utilities.
Under state law, utilities 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.
A utility last challenged its assessment in 2017, when attorneys for Appalachian Power Co. argued its assessment should be reduced from $2.08 billion to $2.034 billion, after the rare combination of a mild winter followed by a mild summer had caused an 18 percent drop in net income for the power company.
Ultimately, the board rejected the request, which would have cut Appalachian Power’s property taxes for 2018 by about $300,000.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper led a protest against the reduction, calling it “corporate welfare at its worst.”
“We have public employees who haven’t had a pay raise in seven or eight years, and seniors on fixed incomes,” Carper said at the time. “If it’s a bad winter, for them, it’s just tough.”
Board members recessed Monday’s meeting to a date yet to be set, when the board will vote to formally approve the property assessments.