Assessors seek protection from county commissions

By Steve Korris | Jan 23, 2008

CHARLESTON – West Virginia assessors want the Supreme Court of Appeals to shield their most important employment decisions from approval by county commissioners.

"Tax collection, like all of government, has historically been subject to varying degrees of political and economic influence," John Kennedy Bailey of Charleston wrote in a brief to the Court from the West Virginia Assessors' Association.

"This dispute is really a struggle for power at the county level," he wrote.

The group supports Harrison County assessor Cheryl Romano in her effort to employ an individual against the wishes of the Harrison County Commission.

Romano claims her decision required approval from no one but the state Property Valuation Training and Procedures Commission.

Circuit Judge David Janes, hearing the case by special assignment after local judges recused themselves, ruled in Romano's favor.

For the county commission, Michael Florio of Clarksburg appealed. He argued that state law requires approval from county commissions for hiring decisions of county officers.

Romano's attorney, Gregory Schillace of Clarksburg, responded that a different law provides state funds for assessors to spend on property valuation as they see fit.

"A county commission can't have any control over this fund," Schillace told the Supreme Court of Appeals on Jan. 8.

Chief Justice Spike Maynard asked him if control over the fund was different from control over hiring. Schillace said hiring was an indirect form of spending.

"That doesn't affect the net expenditure," Maynard said.

"Yes, but it affects who controls the fund," Schillace said.

"What difference does it make who fills the post?" Maynard asked.

"That always matters," Schillace said. "Who somebody owes allegiance to always matters."

Justice Robin Davis asked if one class of employees was paid from the county fund and one class was paid from a state valuation fund.

"That's correct," Schillace said. "The ones that are paid from the valuation fund are the ones who go out and appraise properties."

"So there's no home cooking," Maynard said, adding that the valuation commission was a good idea.

A decision will follow.

As they deliberate, the Justices can study Bailey's brief for the assessors association. He warned that valuation disparities can cause educational disparities.

He wrote that the Legislature created the valuation fund to guarantee funding for assessors "because a county commission might have other funding priorities."

At the end he wrote that the association did not suggest any nefarious agenda on the part of the Harrison County Commission or any other county commission.

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