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Op-Ed: Boy Scout Amendment’s enabling legislation needs work

Last November, 51 of West Virginia’s 55 counties voted to change our state’s Constitution to allow certain nonprofit entities to operate for-profit activities without paying property taxes. The Summit Bechtel Reserve, located in Fayette County, is currently the only organization that qualifies for the amendment. Fayette County voted it down almost 2 to 1 in November’s election, concerned the amendment would allow unfair competition in the recreational, lodging, and restaurant industries.


The amendment requires enabling legislation, now being considered in the House and Senate as SB 519, “that would protect local businesses from unfair competition.” An open forum held in Fayetteville in December gathered local business owners, concerned citizens, and lawmakers together to discuss what the enabling legislation should include. Several citizens expressed concern that the Scouts would erect restaurants and lodging on the Summit’s grounds, fearing that fewer guests would leave the Summit to patronize the local economy.


Despite concerns voiced at the forum, the bill as presented makes no mention of restaurants, and specifically allows the Summit to charge for lodging if “offered as part of the program,” yet there is no definition of “program” in the bill. Further, there is no mention of what penalties would be imposed if the Summit violates the bill’s provisions. Essentially, the bill pretends to limit the Summit’s activities, and then qualifies the limitations to such an ambiguous degree as to render the limitations meaningless.


Gary Hartley, the Summit’s director of community relations, told The Register-Herald in October that the Summit will not add restaurants or lodging. If the Scouts claim to not want restaurants or lodging on the property, and the local businesses have specifically asked for such limitations in the proposed bill, then the bill must be amended to reflect this.


Another troubling aspect of the proposed bill is the lack of compensation for the taxpayer-funded emergency services that will be provided to the Summit. Fayette is expected to provide these services to the Summit, yet the bill provides the county with 1 percent of the Summit’s net revenues as compensation. Further, it is net revenues, not gross. This means that the Summit disburses 1 percent of proceeds after paying most of its expenses.


The money allocated to Fayette County is in no way tied to the actual costs the county may incur. Such an arbitrary and capricious compensation scheme could severely strain Fayette’s budget. That is, if the Summit makes little or no money, Fayette County will still have to expend money on emergency services. Fayette County’s emergency services will essentially be at the mercy of what the Summit decides to “expense” each year. The bill should mandate that the Summit compensate the county for services, irrespective of what amount of money it makes.


We must bear in mind this bill sets the precedent for all future legislation of this nature, not just the present circumstances. Not only does this bill fail to protect the industries that most need it, but there are currently no protections in place to update and revise the legislation should the Summit expand into other industries in the future. The bill should have a mandated provision requiring it be revised every few years in order to reassess the adequacy of the protective measures.


The enabling bill, as proposed, should not pass into law. This amendment was forced on Fayette County against its democratically expressed wishes. As the only county affected by this bill, the Legislature must listen to Fayette County’s concerns. The bill, as proposed, protects the Summit Bechtel Reserve, not Fayette County.

Tighe Bullock,

Law student and

City Councilman, Thurmond, WV



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