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County to stop taxing grounds

By Staff | Feb 3, 2012

CHARLES TOWN – Jefferson County Assessor Angela Banks has decided to exempt homeowners associations’ common areas, a decision that means they will no longer be taxed.

It’s a practice that is already policy for two other West Virginia counties, Pocahontas and Fayette, according to Banks, who said on Friday that she also recently spoken with newly appointed Berkeley County Assessor Gearl Raynes about it.

Banks said she made the decision after speaking with representatives from the Eastern Panhandle Organization of Homeowners Associations and listening to their concerns about double taxation on the property.

She has already put this new policy in writing for the Cloverdale Heights Homeowners Association Inc. in a Jan. 24 letter outlining the reasons for her action.

Cloverdale Heights representative Nance Briscoe, who also serves as EPOHOA membership chair, initiated a discussion and that helped lead to action, she said.

“I have decided to take the position to exempt ‘common areas’ owned by HOAs in Jefferson County as long as these areas are not in some way restricted. I have exempted the common area in Cloverdale Heights beginning with the 2012 tax year,” her letter reads.

“My thinking regarding this matter is that the selling price of the properties within the development that contains the common areas includes a component for such areas,” it continues.

“Developments created before or after section 36B 1-103 and 105 became law, the selling price of the individual lots/units should include the common areas owned by the HOA and therefore none of these areas will be assessed separately (fair and uniform taxation,” the letter concludes.

This regulatory reference is part of the state code known as the Uniform Common Interest Act, and it deals with ownership issues in these kinds of communities and situations, Banks said.

“I do feel that these common grounds are part of the community’s amenities and shouldn’t be considered separately. … It is considered part of the lots’ value,” she said.

Equity also is a consideration, Banks said.

“It is very important to be uniform and treat all the subdivisions the same because I really believe in fair and uniform taxation,” she said.

“And once I started looking at the HOAs, most are a planned community or common interest. So I do feel good about this decision. They should not get a separate tax bill on these common areas,” Banks said.

The action will have real meaning in July, she added.

“In July, all of the HOAs where the parcels are in the HOA’s name and are common areas won’t be getting a separate tax bill for the 2012 tax season,” Banks said.

Revenue loss should not be problem for the county as a result of this change, she said.

“They weren’t assessed at a very high value because they weren’t meant to be used for building,” Banks said.

Raynes, who was appointed in December to an interim term after former Assessor Patsy Kilmer left office, said he’s interested in learning more about this change.

“We’ll have to perhaps get some guidance from the state Tax Department to see where we stand and what would be required by the HOAs in order to make the property exempt,” Raynes said Friday.

“We wouldn’t have time to do this now, for tax year 2012, because what we are finishing right now is the tax bill you will receive this coming July. Today is the last day to make any changes, and starting Monday the county’s board of review and equalization begins so by law we can make no changes after the books have been turned over to the board. … We just physically couldn’t get it done now,” he said.

– Staff writer Jenni Vincent can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 138, or jvincent@journal-news.net