NEW CUMBERLAND, W.Va. — ArcelorMittal Weirton is suing Hancock County officials over what it calls an unfair tax assessment of some coils of steel.
The steel giant, which operates a cold-rolled and tin plate plant on the former site of Weirton Steel, said in the complaint filed in Hancock County Circuit Court that the fair market value of the steel is $45.09 million but that it was assessed for tax purposes at $55.9 million – a difference of nearly $11 million.
The company is asking for a court order reducing the appraised value of the steel coils and refunding the excess tax that was paid as a result of the alleged overappraisal.
The petition, which names Hancock County Assessor Joseph Alongi and Hancock County commissioners as defendants, is essentially an appeal of a decision by commissioners in February affirming the higher market value set by the assessor.
But the complaint also challenges the propriety of the county commissioners – Mike Swartzmiller, Jeff Davis and Joe Barnabei – sitting as a Board of Equalization and Review – the body that annually hears appeals from taxpayers.
“The executive and budgetary responsibility of the county commission for the financial affairs of the county present an inherent and unavoidable conflict of interest for each and every county commissioner,” the petition said, “and renders each and every Board of Equalization and Review biased against the interest of taxpayers appealing the valuation of their property before the board.”
Commissioners met as the board on Feb. 4 and said in a letter in March that the assessor’s appraisal of the steel coils had been affirmed.
ArcelorMittal attorney Herschel H. Rose III, of Charleston, said in the complaint that the company had introduced “competent evidence” at the Feb. 4 hearing that the cost of producing the steel substantially exceeded the current market value of $45.09 million.
Rose said the county assessor failed to introduce any evidence to justify the higher valuation, except to rely on the original acquisition cost $55.9 million.
The petition asserts that the steelmaker’s due-process rights have been violated and that the commissioners’ decision should be reversed.
“Due process of law requires an unbiased tribunal,” the complaint said.
Commissioners could not be reached for comment.
ArcelorMittal’s tin plate operation in Weirton employs an estimated 882 hourly workers and 111 salaried workers, according to the company’s website.
(Huba can be contacted at [email protected])