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Putnam business owes $125K after county foul-up

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Putnam County commissioners approved a payment plan Tuesday for a business that owes the county thousands of dollars because of an oversight.

Seven years ago, commissioners made a deal to give Tasty Blend Foods a tax break as an incentive to keep the business in the county. Now, because of an oversight made by attorneys for the biscuit-mix makers and the commission, the company owes about $125,000 in back taxes, the county's attorney discovered.

"They were paying too much personal property tax and not enough real property," said County Attorney Jennifer Scragg Karr. "I don't want Tasty Blend to look bad -- they didn't do anything wrong."

Commissioners voted 2-1 in June 2005 to give Roy Elswick Jr., owner of Tasty Blend, a tax incentive deal over the next 20 years. Tasty Blend was to get a 20 percent break on its county tax payments from 2006 to 2016, and a 15 percent break from 2016 to 2026.

However, the contract was never signed, Karr said.

The oversight was discovered about two years ago, when Commissioner Steve Andes -- who voted against giving Tasty Blend a tax break at the time -- asked for an update on the business.

"During the process [Karr] thought the other attorney did it and the other attorney thought she did it. Everyone assumed someone else took care of it," Andes said Tuesday. "This fell through the cracks."

Andes disagreed with the move in 2005, saying Tasty Blend already had received breaks from the county by building on property already developed using millions of dollars in public grant money. He said at the time that, when Tasty Blend agreed to buy the land, it bought the property for $39,000 per acre, $1,000 less than the initial price per acre.

On Tuesday, commissioners agreed to allow Tasty Blend to make annual payments of about $9,000 through 2026 to pay off the debt. In 2026, the company would start paying taxes in full, Karr said.

In other business, commissioners heard presentations from companies seeking to insure the county for general liability and other coverage.

Harold Payne, of Payne & Garlow Insurance Agency, said the best plan available for the county would be through Travelers Insurance Co. The county has obtained insurance from Payne & Garlow for the past 15 years.

Commissioners also heard from Steve Rawlings of the West Virginia Counties Risk Pool. He said his proposal would allow the county to be essentially self-insured, with a pool of funds from 34 counties across the state.

Commissioners wanted more time to study the proposals, and postponed a decision until their next meeting.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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