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Published: Tuesday, July 30, 1985
Page: P4A

WEBSTER COUNTY'S COAL PROPERTY TAX MESS IS ANOTHER chapter in the long struggle to collect a fair share of taxes from the out-of-state corporations and others who hoard West Virginia's mineral wealth.

A.T. Massey Co. paid $29.8 million for 7,200 acres of rich coal reserves in Webster County in 1982. The Webster assessor put Massey's new land on the tax books at $14.9 million, 50 percent of value, as required by law.

As related by reporter Paul Nyden, the poor, rural county happily anticipated reaping $200,000 yearly revenue for its impoverished schools and meager county government.

But company avarice interfered. Massey fought its tax bill.

Company lawyers pointed out that neighboring coal reserves, presumably equally valuable, are assessed at one-tenth of Massey's rate. Such disparities happen because some coal reserves haven't been the object of recent sales which would have established their actual market worth.

The state Tax Department's new statewide appraisal of coal seams is no help. It put a $2.1 million value on Massey's $29.8 million tract. The state formula was 93 percent wrong - yet it's used to set taxes on most coal properties not recently traded.

Obviously, Massey's taxes should be based on the sale price of the Webster tract. Obviously, owners of neighboring coal reserves shouldn't duck nine-tenths of their fair taxes.

Unfortunately, Massey and another protesting coal firm appear likely to win in Webster Circuit Court. Such a victory could hurt school systems and county governments throughout the state.

The dispute is headed for the state Supreme Court, which has acted boldly in the past against the sham of tax books that undervalue property. We hope the high court prescribes a method to collect honest taxes from giant corporations which sit on West Virginia's riches.

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