New Lawsuit: Unequal, Unfair Rockwool PILOT Agreement is Unconstitutional
CHARLES TOWN, WV. Jefferson County Vision today filed suit in circuit court challenging Rockwool’s PILOT agreement with local government. The Rockwool PILOT is an unfair and unlawful tax avoidance scheme that is forbidden by the West Virginia Constitution.
Download the lawsuit (.pdf)
In this case, Jefferson County Vision engaged renowned West Virginia University Law School Professor Robert M. Bastress as co-counsel with Charles Town law firm Arnold & Bailey. Professor Bastress has litigated and lectured extensively in the field of West Virginia constitutional law, and is the author of the definitive legal interpretation The West Virginia Constitution, (Oxford University Press, 1995).
The Rockwool PILOT, which stands for “Payment in Lieu of Taxes” requires the Jefferson County government (the “JCDA”) to take full ownership of the Rockwool plant once it is built. Then, in a sleight of hand, the county government “leases” the factory back to Rockwool. As a result, instead of paying taxes, Rockwool makes a handful of much smaller and arbitrary “lease” payments to the government. These payments “in lieu of taxes” allow Rockwool to avoid paying its fair share of taxes like every other Jefferson County taxpayer. After 2029, ownership of Rockwool’s plant would revert back to the company for a nominal amount.
When Rockwool pays far less to the government than other Jefferson County property owners, that is unfair and unjust, because all other taxpayers are bearing a higher proportion of the overall tax burden.
Section 10.1 of the West Virginia Constitution explicitly protects the rights of all taxpayers from this type of unfair and unequal taxation. It states:
“...taxation shall be equal and uniform throughout the state, and all property, both real and personal, shall be taxed in proportion to its value to be ascertained as directed by law. No one species of property from which a tax may be collected shall be taxed higher than any other species of property of equal value;”
The State Constitution is clear: Rockwool’s PILOT, which allows the company to pay no taxes for five years and at much lower rates in other years, is unlawful.
Arnold & Bailey’s Christopher Stroech commented, “Rockwool should not be given preferential treatment. If they are to operate, they should pay their fair share of taxes.”
Jefferson County Vision Board member Amanda Foxx said, “The state of West Virginia was born under the motto ‘Mountaineers are Always Free’ and our state constitution enshrines those values in its bill of rights and in provisions protecting citizens from unequal taxation.”
“On one side stands every Jefferson County business, car owner, and property owner, who are paying our lawful share of county property and personal property taxes to fund schools and local government. On the other side is Rockwool, which conspired with local government to pay nothing at all for many years. In other years, Rockwool pays at a tiny fraction of the rate every other business and citizen pays.”
“Today Jefferson County Vision is going to court to protect our community’s rights under the West Virginia Constitution. We are all equal before the law. Rockwool must pay its fair share of taxes, just like the rest of us.”