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Local share changes stump some lawmakers, officials

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It's an equation that is mysterious for some – local share funds.

Lawmakers heard Dec. 11 from several stakeholders about some issues regarding the calculation of local share.

J.P. Mowery, a CPA who is the treasurer and business manager for Pendleton County Schools, told lawmakers that many counties use their local share funds for salary increases or benefits, but his county uses it to pay the bills.

However, the divide between values from the local assessor's certificates of evaluation and the values from the state tax department can cause headaches, Mowery said.

A measure that is set to go into effect July 1, 2013, will change the calculation of local share in several ways, including using an assumed value rather than the actual certificates of valuation that are reported in March every year. It also is set to reduce the state aid of a school system by 8 percent when an assessment to sales ratio study shows that the county's property assessments are lower than 54 percent of fair market value.

Mowery said when counties see big changes – whether they're gains or drops – between the county and state assessments, it's hard to plan. He used examples from both Pendleton and Monongalia counties.

"All this goes to show is there would be uncertainty on the part of the school finance office and school boards if this went into effect," he said. "It's not that they're wrong, per se, but the actual local money received is based on local valuation.

"You could have money taken away based on state calculations, when the money received is based on local calculations."

Patricia Hamilton, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, said she often refers to the current law that was passed a few years ago as the "punish the assessor/punish the school board bill" and told lawmakers that several components of it need "revisited."

Hamilton said several assessors came to Charleston to attend the meeting, and that assessors don't want their colleagues to be out of compliance, and she wanted everyone to think of how "caught in the middle" the assessors have been.

"They're not out here, willy-nilly, just doing their own thing," Hamilton said of the assessors. "They are very, very regulated and monitored.

"We want to stress that no one comes into an assessor's office and complains that their property taxes are too low."

An Association of Counties property tax consultant, Jerry Knight, spoke to lawmakers about how the assessments are made.

Delegate Sam Cann, D-Harrison, asked the presenters if they had any ideas for methods that might work.

"What we have been trying to do is be fair with everybody," Cann said.