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Commission Denies Tax Break to Statoil

By Staff | Aug 3, 2016

At its Tuesday, July 26 meeting, the Wetzel County Commission denied Statoil’s request of $1,640,104.32 that it claims it overpaid the county in property tax.

Wetzel is one of four local counties that Statoil claims it overpaid.

Previously, Statoil spokeswoman Lauren Shane released the following statement: “Statoil USA Onshore Properties filed an exoneration motion in four West Virginia counties, Brooke, Wetzel, Marshall and Ohio, to request a refund for the 2015 property taxes. We are awaiting decisions on the hearings from Brooke and Wetzel counties. Marshall County and Ohio County have denied the request for refund and we are considering our appeal rights.”

“We maintain that this was a clerical error,” Shane said. “The clerical error stems from over-reporting of revenue data for tax year 2015.”

Wetzel County Assessor Scott Lemley previously stated that Statoil received notice that their values were going up on their wells. Statoil paid the 2015 tax bill but is now claiming they overstated the revenues that they received off the wells.

Lemley noted that Statoil should have realized they overstated their revenues when they received their increase notice.

A meeting was held June 14 between Statoil’s legal representative, Craig A. Griffith, Esq. and West Virginia State Tax Department representative Jan P. Mudrinich, Esq., along with Wetzel County Prosecuting Attorney Timothy Haught.

All stakeholders were given the opportunity to present witnesses, introduce exhibits, and address the county commission with their respective arguments.

After careful deliberation, the commission made the following findings:

1) The taxpayer failed to meet their burden of proof that the assessment was a clerical error as the taxpayer presented testimony from only one witness who lacked personal knowledge of the manner in which the error was committed or the procedures in place to supervise employees and prevent such an error.

2) The evidence presented indicates that the taxpayer was negligent in failing to double check information, supervise employees responsible for providing the information and track and receipt notices sent to them regarding the assessment and respond to the same.

3) The tax payer had a duty to forward accurate information in order for the assessment to be made and negligently failed in the performance of the same.

Wetzel County Commission President Larry Lemon noted that, “essentially, the taxpayer failed to prove that the assessment was a clerical error.”

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In another matter, Wetzel County Commission met with local law enforcement to discuss the purchase of a new fingerprint system. Wetzel County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mike Koontz informed the commission as to how the old fingerprint system works, versus the new method. The new system will scan fingerprints and then store them on an online data storage space that may be accessed from all police stations on the same AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System), which is the system used by state police. This would allow for instant, on-the-spot retrieval of anyone’s criminal history without having to contact outside authorities for information. The system will also store information on DUI’s, sex offenders, child abusers, and even keep a record of tattoos and identifying marks in order to closely link the offenders to their criminal history. This is a helpful tool when it comes to doing pre-sentence reports in that all of the offender’s history is already identified as opposed to having to track down the information manually.

Corporal W.D. Henderson of the West Virginia State Police noted, “Now that we are all accustomed to it, we all love it… it’s locked in to not only the state system but also the federal system.” The cost of the system is $28,480 and according to New Martinsville Police Chief Tim Cecil, “we will pay half of the cost of the maintenance every year.” Eventually, paper will be obsolete due to the advancement of technology and all police forces will be using some form of electronic identification.

In another matter, the commission discussed the open bids for the additions and renovations to the Wetzel County Animal Shelter. Since there was an adjustment to the bid, the commission decided to table the topic for further discussion.

Also, the commission decided to accept the revisions to the sheriff’s law enforcement account and assessors’ account budget after receiving extra funds. The commission also decided to donate $12,000 toward the upcoming RegattaFest, which had been discussed at a previous meeting and budgeted accordingly.

A motion to approve the signing by the commission president on the update of the Hundred/Littleton Water Extension Project was passed along with the motion to sign the Rush Run PSD 1 waterline extension. There was also a motion allowing the commission president to sign a Progressive Income Report from Belomar Regional Council.

Jim Glasscock addressed the commission on behalf of the Folsom Fire Department to clear up some of the confusion over the state of the Smithfield Fire Department. Smithfield VFD has been shut down, and it was first reported that the reason was due to faulty equipment. Smithfield responded that the closure was due to lack of manpower. Therefore, Glasscock presented to the commission a typewritten letter from Assistant State Fire Marshal Bradley Scott. The letter stated that “the air packs at the fire department (Smithfield) are in very bad condition and are very old… The air packs have exceeded their useful life expectancy. NFPA 1852- Standard on Selection, Care and Maintenance of Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus specifies the minimum requirements for the selection, care, and maintenance of the SCBA. SCBA and hose testing are yearly requirements by the West Virginia State Fire Commission, and the department could not provide any testing in the past.”

The letter continued, “There is also a serious issue with the bunker gear. It is at least 20 years old. NFPA 1851 recommends that the gear be replaced after ten years from the manufacture date. The current gear would be unsafe for any firefighter to use.”

It was noted that Wetzel County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Haught has been in contact with state prosecutors to discuss arrangements and the commissioners is waiting to hear his report before any further discussion.