If we West Virginians are interested in creating a more competitive economy, we must think beyond what we have done in the past and take advantage of new opportunities, especially those that allow us to show off the natural assets of our state. We have such an opportunity by voting for an amendment to the West Virginia Constitution this November.
The amendment would permit the Boy Scouts of America to get more use out of the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayette County. The Summit Bechtel Reserve is a beautiful property covering 10,600 acres nestled next to the more than 70,000 acres of managed wilderness of the New River Gorge National River. We are fortunate that the Boy Scouts chose West Virginia over more than two dozen other states for the location of the reserve.
That decision in 2009 led to an investment of more than $100 million in outdoor facilities for such sports as archery, kayaking, mountain biking, BMX biking, skateboarding, rock climbing and swimming. The Summit Bechtel Reserve also has an amphitheater that can seat as many as 80,000 people.
Last year, more than 35,000 Scouts and their leaders came from all over the United States for the National Scout Jamboree. In 2017, another National Scout Jamboree will be held there, and in 2019, Summit will host the World Scout Jamboree with Scouts from about 160 countries likely to attend. In between those big Jamborees, there are smaller Scouting events, but the facilities stand idle much of the time.
They don’t have to remain idle. There are plenty of opportunities for Summit Bechtel Reserve to rent out its facilities to other organizations that would like to hold sporting events there. Some of those events could be televised nationally, giving others the chance to see West Virginia as a place for fun and natural beauty. The events could attract tens of thousands of people to the state, where they would purchase food, lodging, gas and other things and pay taxes to West Virginia on all of those purchases. Televised events might prompt even more people to visit West Virginia for outdoor activities or just to see the sights. They, too, would pay taxes on all of their purchases. And merchants all along their routes through West Virginia would benefit from increased sales.
The only obstacle preventing the Boy Scouts from renting out the Summit Bechtel Reserve’s facilities is a provision of West Virginia law dealing with property taxes. As a nonprofit organization, the Boy Scouts of America is exempt from property taxes. But if the organization would rent out anything at the reserve for the use of other entities, it could lose its property tax exemption. That would cost the Boy Scouts several million dollars a year. So it’s easy to see why the Boy Scouts wouldn’t want to do that.
The constitutional amendment on the November ballot would solve that problem. It would preserve the Summit Bechtel Reserve’s tax-exempt status no matter whether its facilities are rented out or not. Either way, the Boy Scouts would not pay any property taxes on the reserve. But by approving the amendment on the ballot, voters would allow many merchants to increase their sales, and that would allow the state to collect more revenues from taxes paid mostly by out-of-state residents.
For a state that has relied heavily for most of its history on severance taxes from removing its natural resources, the constitutional amendment on the November ballot gives us another way to benefit from our rich resources. It would allow us to preserve our natural assets, show them off and leverage them for increased economic prosperity.
The amendment deserves to be approved.
Sen. Brooks McCabe