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Don't punish schools if tax assessments are off the mark

Dec. 15, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

A new law aimed at ensuring all West Virginia counties are doing their fair share in financially supporting their schools may be well-intended, but it is misdirected.

The law, which would take effect next summer, could cut a county board of education's funding from the state by 8 percent if that same county's property tax assessments fall below 54 percent of fair market value. State law calls for property to be assessed at 60 percent of fair market value for tax purposes.

The rationale behind the legislation makes sense. Why should counties who aren't assessing properties at the higher, appropriate level -- and therefore losing out on available local tax revenue that would go to support local schools -- benefit from the state making up the difference because all school systems are to be funded equally?

However, as critics point out, county school systems would be punished with lost revenue because of something they have no control over. County school systems don't assess property for tax purposes; county assessors do.

That's why school officials are lobbying for the law to be repealed or amended during the 2013 legislative session. Some lawmakers apparently are hesitant to do so, considering that certain counties have a track record of consistently undervaluing property, according to a report in The Charleston Gazette.

If that's true, then lawmakers need to turn their attention to county assessors, not county school boards. Assessors are the ones responsible for determining fair and equitable property values and applying the assessed value in accordance with the law. Penalizing county school boards in cases when that isn't done misses the appropriate mark.

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