Greenbrier County Commissioners Mike McClung and Lowell Rose welcomed new commission member Tammy Shifflett-Tincher at the first meeting of the year on Tuesday, with the first order of business being the nomination of commission president. McClung nominated Rose to serve in that capacity for the year to a unanimous vote.
On the agenda was a proposed tax increment financing (TIF) project plan for Greenbrier County TIF District #1 covering the City of White Sulphur Springs, as well as The Greenbrier Sporting Club Development Company.
A TIF allows a government entity to set aside new property taxes that result from development in a specified area. That revenue is then used for local infrastructure and economic development projects.
Rose said, “A TIF was put in place years ago [in District #1], with the development of the Sporting Club as the source of the funding.” During the flooding which occurred in 2016, the TIF was used to redo the crumbling sewer plant in White Sulphur Springs. “WSS was in tremendous need,” Rose said, “and now there are several possible projects still needed in the TIF area.”
“When you do a TIF,” said Rose, “the county gives up its increase in taxes in the area, and we also get to capture what the state would get, which is many, many times what we would get. We’re giving up a little bit to get a lot.”
However, with the original TIF’s authorization coming to a close, White Sulphur had voted to partner with The Greenbrier Sporting Club with its additional projects, and extend the TIF District until 2034. Some of those projects would exclusively benefit The Greenbrier, potentially calling into question their suitability. The GCC was advised to consult the West Virginia Ethics Commission on the potential that the GCC would need a contract exemption to move the project forward.
Sporting Club Vice President and General Manager Larry Kline, who, in seeking the recommendation from the GCC for the exemption, said a partnership between White Sulphur and the resort would benefit the county and create jobs. According to Kline, the projects proposed by the Sporting Club fall within the TIF guidelines.
But McClung said the ethic commission had already responded, “and they said no.” Given that The Greenbrier is a private, for profit organization, TIF funds, he said, should not be used within The Greenbrier’s grounds.
McClung said could see how the initial TIF funds were used for a sewer plant, but said he was uncomfortable with using TIF funds for a new laundry or a ski facility for The Greenbrier. “It seems like a blatant conflict of interest.”
Kline responded, stating, “There is nothing nefarious here. This is a joint venture.” He cited several significant investments The Greenbrier has made in White Sulphur Springs. “This is about economic development for the area,” he said. “When you read the laws for TIF, it’s almost like these projects were made for it, all of it, for the county and on private land.”
The commission did not vote or authorize to send the requested letter to the ethics commission, but, Rose said he would schedule work session meetings to include all parties to try to get things moving along. “I want to make sure that the city of White Sulphur is covered first and foremost.” Economic development ideas will also be considered, he said. “Then we’ll see what other projects fit the mold.”