Marcellus gas-producing equipment broadening county tax bases - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Marcellus gas-producing equipment broadening county tax bases

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It's property assessment season.

And as county assessors tally their preliminary real and personal property valuations for the 2013-14 tax year, fast-rising totals in some Marcellus counties promise lower property taxes and better county services for residents.

In Marshall County, the assessed value of property has increased 50 percent in two years and doubled since 2007, according to Assessor Chris Kessler.

Assessed values for 2013-14 grew $577 million over 2012-13, excluding the public utility values.

"This type of increase can only be described as extraordinary and is the result of new investment in the county," Kessler said. He spoke specifically of four areas of growth.

Investments include gas processing and fractionation facilities built by Williams Partners, MarkWest Liberty Midstream and Dominion Resources. These facilities that separate the wet gas products ethane, propane, butane and pentanes from methane are a major contributor to higher personal property valuations.

Growth in the pipeline network to carry gas from well to processing adds similarly to the value of property in the county, Kessler said.

New wells under construction on the July 1 assessment date each year also increase personal property valuations because the drilling rigs and equipment on site are assessed to the contractors doing the work.

Finally, royalty payments to mineral owners as well as income realized by Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Trans Energy and other producers are increasing with production, and are subject to taxation.

Growth in assessed values is expected to continue as pipeline network proliferates, processing and fractionation plants expand and construction of Dominion's fractionation plant at Natrium is completed.

The experience is similar in neighboring Wetzel County, where preliminary figures show personal property assessments up $479 million for 2013-14 from the 2012-13 total, according to Assessor Scott Lemley.

Harrison County Assessor Cheryl Romano said she did not want to release property valuations at this early stage.

The broadening tax bases make lower tax rates and better county services possible.

In Marshall County, Kessler said the county commission reduced its levy rates by 13 percent for 2012-13. The school board did not reduce its rates last year. He hopes both will reduce their rates for 2013-14.

Increased tax revenues in recent years have offset the gas industry–related expenses of additional employees for the county clerk and for the assessor's office, Kessler said by way of example, and for the sheriff's department to police busier roads and RV parks that house workers.

Increased revenues also have enabled the Marshall County Commission to buy another building, Kessler said. The sheriff's deputies had outgrown their space in the courthouse, as had emergency services. Spreading out will make many county offices more efficient.

Other projects that might be possible with continued high revenues include building a youth center, the expansion of the new zipline and other recreational facilities and cabins at Grand Vue Park, and greater community grant support for libraries, ball teams and swimming pools.

"I'm sure everyone has some type of project that can be funded," Kessler said.

Wetzel County did not reduce tax rates last year, but has used increased revenues from previous years, including the $200,000 or so in additional revenues last year, to undertake important projects.

The county has bought generators to keep public service districts functioning in power outages, Lemley said.

And three bridges that are maintained by Wetzel County municipalities rather than by the state have needed work, he continued. The county has so far been able to provide matching funds to replace a bridge in Hundred and to rehabilitate two piers of the South Main Street Bridge.

Wetzel County Commission President Don Mason has hopes for future increased revenues.

"There are concerns in the commission about an improved animal shelter," Mason said. "There's a lot of things we can do to aid our volunteer fire departments and there are still some more generators to be bought for other public service districts in case the power goes out.  And the electrical system in the courthouse needs to be overhauled."

Kessler said Marshall County is fortunate but said rising property values and tax revenues will benefit every county in the state.

He made reference to an idea promoted by his brother, Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and others, to set aside a portion of oil and gas severance taxes toward future diversification of the state's economy.

"I think we've only hit really the tip of the iceberg of what we're going to see," Kessler said.