As West Virginia’s richest man, with a net worth of $1.6 billion, Greenbrier resort owner Jim Justice owes delinquent property taxes on real estate and personal property to the tune of $3.9 million. That figure just accounts for overdue debts due to six cash-strapped southern West Virginia counties – Greenbrier, Raleigh, McDowell, Wyoming, Monroe and Fayette. Justice also owes $3.5 million in delinquent property taxes in eastern Kentucky, shortchanging schools and other public agencies at a time many are struggling.
Unpaid debts, be they for property taxes, business disputes or mine safety fines, are not new for Justice and are well documented. Justice has made it abundantly clear that he owns dozens of companies and each is responsible for its own obligations, which makes sense from a business perspective. However, that is a tougher sell publicly when you are running for governor, and stories about overdue debts come calling.
In addition to running his businesses, Justice has invested or given away more than $200 million in the last seven years. He put $175 million of that amount into buying and upgrading The Greenbrier resort, including $25 million for three football fields and a training center for the New Orleans Saints. Another $25 million went to the Boy Scouts of America for the Jim Justice National Boy Scout Camp. He also gave Marshall University $5 million and $10 million was pledged to the Cleveland Clinic, reports the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
In his run for governor, Justice faces former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler in the May 10 Democratic primary.
As part of his gubernatorial campaign, Justice recently began an education listening tour in Beckley. Kessler called on Justice to pay his businesses’ delinquent property taxes, stating he believes that past actions by individuals are the best indicators of their future actions. About 75 percent of Justice’s companies’ delinquent taxes would go to support public education, according to yahoofinance.com.
“If Jim Justice truly values education, he should first go to the courthouses across this state where he or his companies have delinquent property taxes and pay those taxes before holding any more education listening sessions,” Kessler said. “Hundreds of teachers and service personnel are being laid off in West Virginia, and education programs are being cut across the state… Justice needs to step up.”
In a November interview, Justice said that with his many businesses and projects, sometimes he would fall behind on a debt, comparing it to accidentally wearing different-colored socks. “I’m going to make mistakes,” he said. “If we get behind or there’s something that’s not paid – it always gets paid.”
Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill, whose office is responsible for collecting property taxes, said it’s not uncommon for big taxpayers to still be delinquent in the middle of April.”That’s actually pretty consistent, that a lot of people with large bills come in at the last week of April,” Cahill said. “It’s not really anything unique to his situation.”
Although confident that the tax bills eventually would be paid, other county sheriffs were a little less generous in their assessments of Justice.
Monroe County Sheriff Mike Gravely said, “Anytime that we don’t get our tax money paid, obviously it puts us in a little bit of a problem area in paying things that we need to pay – schools, we need to use the property tax to pay our jail bills, just to run the county in general. We’re a small county, so every little bit helps.” Referring to Justice, he said, “I can’t say that it’s not happened before; I’ll just leave it at that.”
McDowell County Sheriff Martin West remarked simply, “He don’t like paying bills, evidently.”