After failing to pay real estate taxes on 4,500 acres in Albemarle County in 2016 and the first half of 2017, a company owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s family continued to be delinquent on its taxes through the end of last year — and now owes over $148,000 to the county.
If the James C. Justice Companies neglects to pay its 2016 taxes through the coming year, the county could start putting delinquent properties up for auction in early 2019.
James C. Justice Cos. purchased the land in southeastern Albemarle County from MeadWestvaco Corp. in 2010 for $23.75 million. The properties, referred to as “Presidential Estates,” sit just south of James Monroe’s Highland and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
Justice, a billionaire businessman who was elected governor in 2016, has amassed a fortune in the coal, timber, agriculture and recreation industries. He also owns The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.
In a 2011 interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow, Justice described the “development possibilities” of the property and also noted its “incredible historical value.” He said he was “open-minded” to different uses of the land.
Since then, logging operations have been the primary activity on Presidential Estates and the property has gone undeveloped.
Questions were raised last summer about forestry on the parcels when a neighboring landowner alleged logging operations caused significant runoff on to their property. It was unclear at the time what erosion and sediment control regulations may have been applicable and whether the land was transitioning from forestry to another kind of land use.
Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development, said in an interview Monday that the county eventually learned that the land was being converted to pasture — a land use which is exempted from local erosion and sediment control requirements in Virginia.
“Under state law they have the right to convert it to pasture and that is an exempted activity,” Graham said.
Agriculture and forestry are other similarly protected uses.
The properties have also been in the county’s land use taxation program, which offers a significantly lower tax rate to property owners who commit to using their land for forestry, agriculture, horticulture or open space. Program participants must meet specific requirements, and if land changes to a non-qualifying use, the landowner faces five years of rollback taxes.
All 55 of the Justice-owned parcels in Albemarle were once a part of the program, but 53 of them were removed for the 2017 tax year when the company failed to pay 2016 taxes on these parcels.
County Assessor Peter Lynch said in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow that the two other parcels were removed from the land use taxation program for the 2018 tax year “due to a failure to revalidate the land use, which is required every two years.”
All of the Justice properties are now being taxed at fair market value, although rollback taxes have not been triggered.
“None of these properties have yet had their taxes rolled back, because we have not determined if the use is changing to a non-qualifying use,” Lynch said.
The county says Justice currently owes $148,269 on the properties — a figure which accounts for real estate taxes, interest, penalties and real estate supplement bills to cover differences between market and land use value when property assessments changed.
If the 2016 taxes go unpaid, state law would allow the county to start the process of auctioning off the delinquent properties after Dec. 31 of this year.
At the March 14 Board of Supervisors meeting, Rick Randolph, who represents the Scottsville district, briefly talked about the the unpaid taxes and pointed to a history of Justice’s companies failing to pay taxes in other parts of the country. Presidential Estates is located in Randolph’s district.
“Albemarle County is not the only county being stiffed by the governor of West Virginia,” Randolph said at the meeting.
In February, the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia reported on one of Justice’s companies owing almost $3 million in state taxes.
Another report published by the Lexington Herald Leader in Kentucky in February found Justice’s coal companies owed $2.9 million in unpaid property taxes. The newspaper documented the challenges local officials in Kentucky have faced when collecting on delinquent taxes and the impact of the failure to pay property taxes on public schools.
An NPR investigation in 2016 found Justice’s mining companies owed $15 million in unpaid taxes and fines across six states at the time.
“I have no animus towards Mr. Justice, I just would like to see him be a good citizen,” Randolph said in an interview Monday. “And I think he has an obligation — when you are elected to the top office in a state of the United States — to demonstrate moral leadership and pay your bills.”
Efforts to contact James C. Justice Cos. by phone and email for this article went unanswered. A spokesperson for the West Virginia’s Governor’s Office said any comment would need to be provided by the company.
At the March 14 meeting, Randolph shared a message for Justice.
“We’re keeping an eye on you,” Randolph said. “Keep the lights on out there at the Greenbrier, we’re coming for you.”