Although the Non-Profit Youth Organization Tax Exemption Amendment — commonly referred to at the Boy Scout Amendment — passed overwhelmingly across the state, Fayette County residents voted it down nearly 2 to 1.
With all precincts counted statewide, 252,787 (62 percent) voted for and 155,620 (38 percent) were against, while Fayette County voted 3,530 for and 5,544 against.
The amendment will allow the Boy Scouts of America to operate for-profit ventures at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean without losing its property tax exemption as a non-profit.
Gary Hartley, Community & Government Relations spokesman for the Scouts, said “The Boy Scouts of America is very thankful to the citizens of West Virginia for passing this amendment. When we chose this site for the Summit Bechtel Reserve, we believed that it was a great opportunity to expose other parts of the world to this extraordinary state, and we can continue to do so on an even larger scale.
“The Summit helps the Boy Scouts of America fulfill its mission of serving America’s youth, providing character-building opportunities, a respect and appreciation for the outdoors, physical fitness, and leadership development. With its extensive and diverse program offerings, the site has become a pinnacle of the Scouting experience, offerings life-changing experiences to our nation’s youth that they cannot experience anywhere else.
“The state has been a valuable partner since we began development of the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve and we look forward to continuing our long-term relationship with this great state.”
Mountain Party House of Delegates candidate Tighe Bullock has been a staunch opponent of the amendment. He sees Fayette County’s opposition as pointing to a larger problem.
“There is one area that is affected by the amendment. The rest of the state has heard ads from the Boy Scouts, but they haven’t heard a strong voice against it,” he said.
Fayette County Commissioner Matt Wender agreed.
“I think the debate only took place in one county,” said Wender. “It is a Fayette County issue, and has been discussed here. It doesn’t affect the other 54 counties, and they haven’t heard the arguments for and against it that we have here, although the Boy Scouts promoted it throughout the state.”
Delegate Dave Perry was also concerned residents of Fayette County might feel disenfranchied by the vote.
“Throughout the state, they have been in favor of it because people believe it will create jobs,” Perry said. “I’m not sure we ever got a real read as to what the economic benefit of it would be to Fayette County. What will the direct economic benefit be?”
Perry said he thinks the issue might have been better suited as a local initiative and expressed concern about amending the constitution for one group.
According to the amendment, only non-profit educational facilities for youth that have $100 million worth of facilities may operate for profit ventures and retain their tax exemption.
Under the amendment, legislators must develop rules and regulations to guide Summit’s ventures and ensure it does not compete with local businesses.
Wender said he hopes the Legislature will be able to write these guidelines with specific terms.
“I hope it won’t be written in broad terms. I think we have to be very specific about protecting our tax base and our local private enterprise from direct competition from the Scouts, because they could have a considerable advantage,” he said.
Bullock added that he sees this amendment as setting precedent for other non-profits to seek equal treatment, and “it creates a financial incentive for groups to start non-profits. Anyone with a $100 million facility has the financial incentive to operate as a nonprofit in name only,” he said.
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