WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Putnam Commissioner Gary Tillis blocked an attempt to exclude the public during a meeting Tuesday, an attempt he believed was intended to discuss a tax break that had been given to a Poca company.
Commissioner Steve Andes voted to enter executive session, which was listed on the agenda as a contract negotiation with Gary Walton, director of the Putnam Development Authority. However, Commissioner Joe Haynes wasn't at the meeting, making it a 1-1 vote and defeating the attempt to enter executive session.
After the meeting, Tillis said he believed the executive session was planned in order to discuss West Virginia Steel Corp.'s payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) arrangement.
Decades ago, commissioners approved a PILOT agreement with the Poca business, allowing a 25-year tax break on real property. The county owned the land during that time.
When the deal ended in 2006, the land was given back to the company, which was supposed to begin paying taxes. However, the Putnam sheriff's tax office was mailing the company's tax invoices to an incorrect post office box in Winfield, and getting back the unopened mail.
Once the error was realized, West Virginia Steel was hit with a "three-year tax bill at once," County Attorney Jennifer Scragg Karr said in June.
But also that month, commissioners agreed to extend the company's tax break on real property for two years with the understanding West Virginia Steel would expand and add 40 more jobs.
Tillis has expressed his reluctance to give out PILOT incentives because schools stand to lose tax dollars and because it's unfair to other companies in the county.
PILOT incentives are often handed out to companies in exchange for their opening in a certain area or promising to bring more jobs to an existing facility.
Walton wouldn't say after the meeting the company's name or details about what the executive session might have accomplished.
"Any time you talk to a company, whether it's an existing one or one that's coming, the company prefers you go into executive session until they're ready to release something," Walton said. "They release it; I don't."
An employee with West Virginia Steel said company officials did not want to comment Tuesday.
Andes, who serves on the Development Authority board, said after the meeting that he didn't know what the executive session was intended for, only that it was with West Virginia Steel.
"The whole idea is to bring investments into the county, to get more jobs, which helps everybody," Andes said about PILOT programs.