At a Meet the Candidates forum on Thursday, a panelist asked Fayette County Commission candidates how additional services required by The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve will be paid for without an undue tax burden on county and state residents.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is a charitable organization, so its 10,600-acre property near Mount Hope is tax exempt.

A recent bill also exempted their construction contractors from paying sales tax, with an estimated loss of between $5 million to $10 million in tax revenue.

A measure that would have further expanded the BSA’s tax exempt status to allow them to lease their property to outside groups did not make it through the Legislature this session and is slated for additional review by lawmakers. It involves amending the state constitution’s property tax language.

Cheryl Keenan of The Fayette Tribune asked how the county’s logistics, planning, infrastructure and manpower costs related to the project will be covered.

County Commission President Matthew Wender says although the county missed out on about $36,000 a year in property tax, the BSA is providing $50,000 a year for “unidentified” costs the county might incur because of the development.

Wender says putting a figure to these costs is difficult. He says the bigger issue is keeping an eye on relevant legislation. For example, he says the pending legislation requiring a constitutional amendment needs a “thorough scrubbing” before going any further.

Denise Eskew Scalph, an incumbent from the New Haven district, says the current county commission has been negotiating with the Scouts on various ways to offset the lost revenue.

“We also have been receiving monies for permits,” she says. “Any structure will also have a fee attached to it.”

“We are trying as a commission to adjust and work with the Scouts to be good partners but also protect your interests.”

One of her opponents, Don Beals, said as recently retired District 9 manager for the Department of Highways, his dealings with the BSA have been highway-related. He said he wasn’t familiar with the loss of revenue and lamented it, but saw other factors in play.

“The Boy Scouts are a great thing for Fayette County and will continue to help us grow in many ways, and I’m sure there will be a lot of different jobs that will spin off,” he said.

Randall Patterson, also running for the New Haven district seat, said tax break incentives draw in business.

“I think the positive things that will be gained will override any tax incentive we give to the Boy Scouts,” he said.

He also said that although the Summit is a “great” project that is receiving lots of attention, it is important not to lose focus on “the rest of the county.”

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com

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