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August 31,1975 Some Assessors Take Aim At the Large Landowners By Tom Miller Henld-DUpateh Writer FAYETTEVILLE. W.Va. (AP) - Large landowners in West Virginia traditionally have paid very low property taxes on their huge holdings. But this year Fayette County Assessor Harold Neely has doubled, and in some cases tripled, the tax assessments. Some of these large corporations have filed court actions to reject the higher tax bill; a final verdict from Fayette Circuit Court is pending. Oddly enough, some companies, including the"New River Co. which is the largest single landowner in the county, have made no protest even though one tract owned by New River Co., a subsidiary of the Chessie System, Inc., has been raised in assessed value from 537,301 to $103,316 this year. If Neely's move is upheld in court, Fayette County will get an additional J250.000 in real estate taxes this year, most of it coming from the 12 large companies that own more than half the land in the county. Most of the additional tax money will go to the Fayette County school system. "When i was appointed assessor in 1971, my first move was to raise the minimum value per acre from $1 ,to $10," he explained. "What 1 have done this year is raise that minimum from $10 to $30 per acre." Unlike a similar Wyoming County situation, Neely did not limit the boost to the large land companies. He applied it to the small property owner, too. "Some of the people came in to complain but when I told them I was hitting the big companies, too, they said they were behind me," he said. AS A RESULT, Pocahontas Land Corp., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Norfolk and Western Railway Co., saw a 2,123-acre tract that was assessed for $36,000 in 1974 appear on the 1975 tax books valued at $99,019. The taxes on that parcel jumped from $1,000 a year to $2,700 a year. Another large corporation, Eastern Associated Coal Corp., a subsidiary of Eastern Gas and Fuel Associates of Boston, had a 10,293 acre tract that had been valued at $358,216 in 1974 and is on the 1975 books for $663,713. But like the New River Co., Eastern has nut challenged the in- * crease. . \ Pocahontas Land Corp., however, filed , suit and soon a companion action was filed on behalf of Berwind Land Co.; Laurel Â· Creek Land Co.; Beechwood Coal and ^ Coke Co.; Glade Creek Land Co.; the J. L. , Beury Estate, Inc.; Little Fire Creek Coal .| Co., and Beury Coal and Coke Co. | While a final decision is pending, argu- i ments have been completed in the case. Â· During the hearing, attorneys for Poca- ! hontas Land introduced evidence from a J company official that indicated the firm ( was going to sell 168 acres in the county for $25 an acre. The transaction, however, still hasn't been recorded, according to Neely, and a hearing transcript reveals the same official acknowledged under cross-examination a value of $150,000 for timber on 15 of 168 acres. Berwind Land Co. seemingly faces a quandary since the same court is weighing arpments in a condemnation case filed by the State Department of Highways in its efforts to acquire 57 acres from Berwind for road construction. According to Neely, Berwind attorneys maintain in the assessment case the land should not be valued at $60 per acre for tax purposes (assessments are traditionally 50 per cent of this) but are asking the SDH to pay about $8,000 per acre. * * * A SIMILAR situation has surfaced in Mingo County where the county commis- son wants to buy land from Georgia-Pacific Corp., one of four large landowners i there. The land,'to be used for a county landfill, is assessed at a value of $37.50 per acre but G-P officials have told the commission they won't accept less than $1,200 per acre for the property. The commission holds the authority to review and revise tax assessments when it sits as a board of equalization and review each February, and the Mingo County commissioners have served notice they intend to exercise that authority in 1976. The Webster County Commission already has made such a move. In 1974, the assessor valued at $28,600 a 1,589-acre tract owned by Pardee and Curtin Lumber Co. The commission increased the value to $37.180. This year the original assessment was boosted to $79,450, but the ultimate decision was $119,450. The result is that the company will pay approximately $2,300 in taxes on the land in 1975 compared to about $700 last year, helping to spur a $25.000 increase in real estate tax revenues for the county this year when most counties are experiencing declining revenues because of the homestead exemption amendment. This exempts the first $5,000 of assessed value on persons 65 or older from property taxes. Lack of up-to-date appraisals is another factor and State Tax Commissioner Richard Dailey is in the midst of a state reappraisal to assist the county assessors who must then assess at a figure no less than 50 per cent of the appraised value. The first impact of this was felt in Berkeley County this year with real estate tax receipts.up from $1,687.594 to 82,182.621. 1! \Ve only did the land values without considering the improvements and buildings." said Dailey. "and assessments increased an average of 27 per cent. If we had included the buildings, I believe assessments would have increased at least 50 per cent" Entirely separate from the over-all reappraisal of all land, buildings and industrial property is the state's first effort to provide mineral appraisals to assessors. Corporation SutBOeryGflJif.MKa ROBERT E. AGSTEN, INC. 201 on UK., ounmo, w. v. MMI """ OPEN UBOÂ« DAY 91. 9* * * * * * * * * ***OPtM LABOR DAY 9 lo 9 * * * * * * * * * * * * * A * Â»OKIUAÂ»OKUM ised impatient legislators last winter he would provide a short-term, spot analysis appraisal system for critical miner al counties. The first results are due by the end of the year. Neely admits it was impatience that prompted his efforts to raise mineral assessments without benefit of any concrete appraisals. Because he extended it to all property owners, large and small, both he and DaUey believe it has a chance of being supported in court. 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