ELKINS — The Randolph County Commission voted unanimously Thursday to send a letter asking that the state Department of Economic Development reject the City of Elkins’ Tax Increment Financing application.
In early January, Elkins City Council voted to submit an application to the state to issue bonds in order to fund several costly redevelopment projects through Tax Increment Financing (TIF). The city has a plan to issue up to $25 million in tax increment revenue bonds.
“The city is wanting to use county tax dollars to pay for their projects inside the city,” Commissioner Cris Siler said. “And I don’t think that’s fair to the other thousands of residents in the county who would like to have projects in their communities, that don’t have the ability to do a TIF because they are not a municipality.”
Commissioner David Kesling said there has been some confusion over the way the commission learned about what the TIF project actually is, and how they were made aware by the city that the application was going forward.
“There’s been a lot going back-and-forth about a first-class letter that was sent to the county letting us know about this,” Kesling said. “A first-class letter is nothing more than putting a 63-cent stamp on a letter and mailing it. If I was going to potentially take $25 million from the city over the next 30 years, I would have not sent a 63-cent letter. I know it’s part of their process, but when you’re gonna take that much money from another entity, I would come and say ‘Hey, you know we are going to be taking $25 million from you for the next 30 years.’”
Kesling said the county commission first learned about the TIF when a resident came to a commission meeting and voiced his concerns.
“A gentleman from the county came here and spoke about this TIF project,” said Kesling. “The mayor (Jerry Marco) was here in this meeting room and after that gentleman finished complaining about the TIF, I asked the mayor if he had any comments on it. He said no. So, there is where he could have stood up and told us about this.
“Then after the meeting (Marco) came up to me and I asked him what was going on with this TIF. His comment was that the city was just going to be using some bonds and it was no big deal. It’s our ignorance that we didn’t fully investigate and understand this TIF in the beginning, but once we did, this commission knew it had to take a stand against it.”
Marco was not at Thursday’s commission meeting, but Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton did attend. Sutton did not speak during the TIF agenda portion of the meeting and left after the commissioners voted to send the letter to the state.
Kesling said other issues regarding the application are concerning to the commission.
“If the City of Elkins wants to cut trees along the Tygart Valley River as one of their beautification projects, they have a $1.4 million per year, 1% sales tax,” Kesling said. “If you go back and look at their application, it says one of their projects is the beautification of downtown Elkins. If you go back and look at their 1% sales tax process, they wanted that 1% for beautification of downtown Elkins.
“Part of this TIF process is that, if it wasn’t for the TIF this project would not be funded. Well, beautification in downtown Elkins is supposed to be funded by that 1% sales tax. Another project listed on their application is to pay for and build the events center in the Railyard. The county gave $250,000 for that project and the Randolph County Development Authority has already secured money to build it. So, in their TIF application, they are saying that they need this TIF money to build an event center that has already been funded and that I believe is going to start being built this spring.
“So, this is why we are complaining, because it’s not their money and they are citing projects that are already fully funded,” Kesling said. “So, if they want to take county dollars and buy more hanging baskets to beautify downtown Elkins, let them use their 1% sales tax to pay for that. As long as I’m president, I will fight tooth and nail for every dollar to benefit all county residents.”
Siler added that the TIF money cannot be used to pay back loans for projects that have already begun or that will begin before the TIF is approved.
“They can’t use it to pay money toward the event center or any project that has started,” Siler said. “The Legislature started this TIF to help the counties out if they had a distressed area. For whatever reason, the Legislature decided it was a good idea to let municipalities be able to just come in and take money from the county. I call it legalized theft, because that’s exactly what it is. It’s been legalized and passed by the legislature to let cities steal money that is not theirs to fund projects that are in the city.”
The TIF would allow the city to collect any tax assessed value increases on the properties that are mapped in the TIF district for the next 30 years. The county would continue to receive tax monies from the properties, but the county would only receive taxes based on the assessments as they were on July 1, 2022.
“So basically the way you need to think about it is, if a new hotel is built in the industrial park area, where the IOOF property is, if that pushed the value of the base, which it would, that would mean that the county would not receive any money from that as it would have for 30 years,” said Randolph County Assessor Phyllis Yokum. “If you get a new business in downtown Elkins and they have $100,000 worth of machinery and equipment, the county wouldn’t get anything from that.”
Kesling pointed out that the county gave $100,000 toward the Randolph County Development Authority’s purchase of the IOOF property on Georgetown Road, for use as an Industrial Park, but if the TIF application is approved the county will not receive any taxes from the new park for the next 30 years. He also said the additional work for the assessor’s office would be equal to them taking on another country’s entire workload.
“Each year I will have to code each of those parcels (in the TIF) and figure out if there has been an increase or not in the TIF area,” said Yokum. “Same thing with business, personal property, machinery and equipment, and inventory. Everything except vehicles. And personal property is a lot harder because we can’t see it on the map, it has account numbers.
“So, what I have done is provide the city with a list of commercial personal property accounts in the City of Elkins and ask them to give me a list of the accounts that would be included in their TIF. Because I don’t have the manpower or time to do that.”
Two area residents spoke during the public comment section of the meeting in favor of the TIF. Lamar Weese, owner of the Holiday Inn Express in the Elkins Railyard, and Craig Fortney, the general manager of Weese’s business, offered comments.
“On Jan. 5, I spoke in favor of the TIF at the Elkins City Council meeting. I’m here to do so again today,” said Fortney. “The TIF could have an effect on the potential increase in tax revenue paid to the county commission. But I don’t feel that this is a city vs. county issue, the issue should be what is best for our community as a whole. I believe that now is the time to invest in ourselves for future generations and I believe that the TIF can be a big step in that direction. The TIF provides funds for projects now, while simply betting on the future success of our area.”
Weese stated, “We have fertile ground right in the railyard and we should take advantage of that, plant the right seed now. When you plant a seed, you need fertilizer and the best fertilizer is money. Bondholders are wanting to risk investing in this community. The TIF taxes, potential extra taxes that we don’t even have yet, would pay those bond holders for taking that risk. Let them take the risk. What’s plan B? Raise taxes on citizens, borrow money from a bank. No, let them do it.”
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