County seeks to recover money from assessment error

BUCKHANNON — A clerical error resulted in the Upshur County Assessor’s Office collecting nearly $119,000 less than it should have on a property owned by an oil and gas company in the Banks District in 2014, 2015 and 2016, the Upshur County Commission learned Thursday.
County prosecuting attorney David Godwin appeared before the commission to present a Petition for Relief from Erroneous Assessment for tax years 2014-2016.
According to Godwin and Upshur County Assessor Dustin Zickefoose, Oklahoma-based Appalachian Midstream Services paid a total of $118,975.41 less on a piece of property it owns in the Banks District of Upshur County than it allegedly should have over the course of a three-year span due to the error, which Godwin and Zickefoose both called “inadvertent.”
Chapter 11, Article 3, Section 27 of the W.Va. state code states that the county is entitled to file a petition for relief, a copy of which will be delivered to the taxpayer — in this case, Appalachian Midstream Services, Godwin said.
“What this alleges is that there was an inadvertent clerical error which resulted in a significant under-appraisal of property,” Godwin explained. “What happened was they (Appalachian Midstream Services) submitted a spreadsheet, and the last entry, which is normally what they’re claiming is the fair market value, in this case was 60 percent of the fair market value. The assessor’s staff entered that as the fair market value in the assessor’s program, and then applied the 60 percent, so we ended up with figures [that were incorrect], so that’s the nature of the error.”
The petition for relief alleges that in 2014, the error resulted in an underpayment of $39,520.55; in 2015, the company paid $43,026.37 less than it should have; and in 2016, Appalachian Midstream Services paid $36,428.49 less than it owed, for a total of $118,975.41 in taxes.
“This petition alleges that these were the result of inadvertent clerical errors and that this is being filed within one year of discovering these errors,” Godwin added.
The petition also provides that the commission should hear the matter in open session, giving both the taxpayer — Appalachian Midstream Services — and the assessor with an opportunity to address any issues raised by the document, Godwin said. The prosecuting attorney pointed out that the error “was in favor of the county taxpayer rather than the county.”
“What this petition does is it asks you to take these under consideration and asks you to have your county administrator provide notice of this to the taxpayer by certified mail and arrange a time when this could be heard by the commission when both parties (the assessor and the company) would be able to appear and provide you with whatever information they see fit,” Godwin said.
The commission will ultimately decide whether it agrees with the assessor or the taxpayer, Godwin said.
Commissioner Sam Nolte made a motion to accept the petition and direct county administrator Carrie Wallace to contact Appalachian Midstream Services and set up a hearing before the commission, which was seconded by commission president Terry Cutright before passing unanimously.
Commissioner Troy “Buddy” Brady was not present at Thursday’s meeting.
If the commission rules in favor of the assessor, the company will be required to pay the owed amount, but will likely appeal the decision, Zickefoose said at Thursday’s meeting. Calling the mistake “a pretty significant error,” Zickefoose also pointed out that the error occurred before he was elected in 2016.
“I would like it to be noted that it didn’t occur on my watch, but it was discovered on my watch,” he said. “Now, they (Appalachian Midstream Services) are entitled to a hearing, and they can appear and oppose having to pay. I don’t imagine they will just fold and pay it, but it would be nice to get it, since we’re in the business of collecting money for the county, not losing it.”

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