WINFIELD - An already light agenda for the Putnam County Commission's first meeting of the month got even lighter when a planned executive session didn't happen for lack of a majority vote.
The agenda described the executive session, which is a closed portion of the meeting the public is not allowed to attend, as being for "contract negotiations." Sessions like this occur routinely and are a legal exception to open-meeting laws.
Commissioner Joe Haynes was absent for Tuesday's meeting, and although Commissioner Steve Andes moved to go into executive session, Commission President Gary Tillis did not second the motion. Tillis often does not vote to go into executive session.
Putnam County Development Authority Director Gary Walton and several colleagues attended the meeting apparently in anticipation of the session. When Tillis opened the floor to hold the contract negotiations in public, Walton declined and the group left.
Andes suggested they return in two weeks when Haynes would be in attendance to try again.
Later, Tillis said he didn't know for sure who the parties to the negotiation were or what the topic would be, but he believed it was regarding a potential PILOT agreement with West Virginia Steel Corp.
PILOT stands for "payment in lieu of taxes," and it's a way for counties to give businesses tax breaks to lure jobs to the county. Under these agreements, a public entity such as the county development authority holds the deed to land or equipment used by a company. That allows the company to avoid paying property taxes, and the public entity is exempt.
But the company agrees to make a smaller payment to help the recipients of property tax revenue, like the county school system and various county agencies.
The commission approved a PILOT agreement for West Virginia Steel Corp. in June that gave the company a two-year tax break after an error at the Putnam County tax office resulted in the company owing back taxes and $50,000 to $60,000 in fees.
That mistake stemmed from an earlier PILOT agreement that spanned 25 years ending in 2006 that exempted the company from paying real property taxes.
When the first PILOT agreement ended, the county started sending tax bills to a defunct address, so the company didn't receive or pay them. The new PILOT was to make up for the fees the company incurred as a result of owing back taxes.