Coal companies tied to West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice are promising to pay huge property tax debts owed to some eastern Kentucky counties.
Knott, Pike, Harlan and Magoffin counties received checks last week totaling nearly $1.2 million from Justice companies. The Justice organization has also pledged to pay an equal amount over the next six months to resolve years of delinquent taxes in Kentucky, The Herald-Leader of Lexington reported.
Kentucky’s Finance and Administration Cabinet led the negotiations with Justice. The cabinet announced the agreement Monday.
Finance Secretary William M. Landrum III says the settlement “means the state and these counties no longer have to spend time, money and other resources on lawsuits that could take many years with no guarantee that the taxes would be paid.”
“This is a really positive thing,” said Justice’s son, Jay, who runs the companies. “We all know these counties desperately need these dollars.”
The agreement did not cover Floyd County, where a Justice company owes a tax bill of $671,000.
The delinquent taxes in the millions hit the Appalachian counties hard as the coal industry slumped and coal severance taxes dried up.
Knott County has laid off 32 employees since the first of the year, sold 15 vehicles to reduce costs and cut the number of hot meals for senior citizens, Judge-Executive Jeff Dobson said.
As part of the agreement, the state and some counties waived penalties and interest on debts the Justice companies owed.
Magoffin County Clerk Renee Arnett Shepherd said it wasn’t fair for companies tied to a billionaire to get a break when poor people in her county have to shoulder the full debt.
“That’s not right,” Shepherd said. “I don’t agree and I think it’s crazy.”
Justice, elected governor in 2016, owns coal companies, agricultural operations and The Greenbier resort. Forbes magazine estimated his net worth at $1.5 billion and that he and his children own around 100 companies.