The Sporting Club/Greenbrier projects proposed within TIF District #1 were once again before the Greenbrier County Commission during the Tuesday morning meeting.
A capacity crowd filled the courthouse chambers, and was made up of mostly contract workers, service providers, vendors and businessmen supporting the proposed projects at the Sporting Club and in White Sulphur.
The TIF authorization of the district, which covers the Spa City and the Greenbrier Sporting Club, will soon to expire. Both WSS officials and Sporting Club/Greenbrier representatives have partnered to extend that TIF for another 15 years. The money raised will be used for mutually beneficial development projects.
The stumbling block has been the viewpoint taken by the Greenbrier County Commission, which maintains that The Greenbrier/Sporting Club projects would exclusively benefit private, for profit entities, both of which are owned by Gov. Jim Justice and his family, calling into question their suitability, which present the county with a conflict of interest. “We cannot spend taxpayers money on the governor’s property,” Commissioner Lowell Rose said at the previous commission meeting.
Although the item was not on the agenda, several speakers rose to request that the commissioners take a positive approach to the issue by sending a letter to the West Virginia Ethics Commission. That body would then determine whether projects at The Greenbrier and the Sporting Club could legally qualify for TIF funding under a contract exemption.
Attorney Brian Helmick, a TIF expert who represents the Sporting Club, stated that The Greenbrier and the Sporting Club could legally qualify for TIF funding under a contract exemption. “We have seen those done around the state,” Helmick said. “This is a proper use of funds.”
Sporting Club vice president and general manager Larry Kline drew attention to the fact that The Greenbrier is the largest employer in the county in one of the largest TIF districts in the state. One quarter of the property taxes to the county come from The Greenbrier, and ten percent of the population either directly or indirectly benefit from The Greenbrier. The county’s own comprehensive plan calls for the retention and expansion of existing businesses, he said, and as the economic engine of the county, “There is no question the TIF is in conflict with projects at The Greenbrier.”
Additional support was offered by WSS Mayor Bruce Bowling, who said the TIF has been a big part of the revitalization of the Spa City. “We need one more piece of the puzzle,” he said, “and that’s the county commission.”
Superintendent of Schools Jeff Bryant affirmed that growth development as a component of the TIF projects would positively impact the county’s school system. Manager of housekeeping at The Greenbrier, Nora Martin, and David Bostic, a small business owner with five businesses in WSS and 20 employees, offered additional support from the perspective of service providers. Bostic also supports other vendors in the area whose employment depends upon businesses and residential development with the renewal of the TIF.
Tom Crabtree, one of the founders of the West Virginia Great Barrel Company and a proponent of the flood recovery effort, “Homes for White Sulphur Springs,” said simply, “There’s no better economic development than the Sporting Club. There’s no other opportunity out there. It used to be that the Greenbrier and WSS weren’t working together, but that’s changed now. The Sporting Club projects are worth ten times what the Barrel Company will generate.”
Commission President Rose’s response was to list the WSS projects, some of which were low priority, he admitted, stating, “We’ve still got some things to work out.” He said the total cost of the six projects he mentioned is around $12.25 million. The TIF would produce only $15 million over the next 15 years, Rose said.
As for the possibility of holding a working session with representatives from The Greenbrier and the Sporting Club, Rose said plans to hold working sessions with all interested parties were delayed due to scheduling issues with the commission. “We will meet in time and handle this in an extremely professional way.”
After the meeting, Klein contacted the Mountain Messenger to respond to Rose’s remarks. He said that half of the projects Rose listed are not high priorities for the city, but the cost of the essential projects, he said, is in the $5.6 million range. The Greenbrier and the Sporting Club have $9.5 million in proposed projects, and offer greater opportunities to the county for jobs and more in the future.
“We think there is plenty of room with the TIF revenues to accommodate all of the projects,” he said. “Infrastructure without jobs doesn’t make sense.”
At minimum, Klein said, the commission cannot object to sending the letter seeking an opinion – and potentially a contract exemption – from the Ethics Commission.
In other business:
- A new hire was approved for the Assessor’s office.
- A resolution was approved authorizing a $400,000 grant to complete the access road to the Great Barrel Co. and several other businesses in the industrial area at Harts Run under development.
- Seeking to diversify funds, the Farmland Protection Board requested a resolution from the commission to invest in a consolidated fund in order to protect future development.
- Day Report Director Laura Legg requested approval to apply for two annual grants amounting to $285,000 and $119,000.
- The commission also approved the contract for the Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) award for $15,000.
- The Sam Black water project is reportedly ahead of schedule in spite of the recent cold temperatures. Water to Sam Black should be supplied by mid summer, Commissioner Tammy Tincher said.
- The commission agreed to create an ordinance to update the fire fees for the Greenbrier County Fire Association members to be placed on the agenda of the March meeting.
- Doug Hilton and Margaret Hamrick, in a presentation from the Greenbrier County Historical Landmarks Commission, stated that the West Virginia Land Trust is interested in purchasing the land where the Muddy Creek Massacre Monument is sited. With the help of Hilton and Hamrick to manage the site, they hope to create a tourism attraction to maintain recognition of the original site of the 109 year old long gone fort.