Boy Scouts Win Ballot Question in W. Virginia

November 5, 2014       Mark Hrywna      

West Virginia voters yesterday agreed to change the state constitution to allow Boy Scouts of America to lease its 10,000-acre reserve without putting its property tax exemption in jeopardy.

West Virginia Nonprofit Youth Organization Tax Exemption, Amendment 1, asked voters whether to allow nonprofit youth organizations that build $100-million facilities to be exempt from property tax. The question was written with the Scouts’ Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in mind. Without a tax exemption, the property would generate approximately $5 million annually in property taxes, according to published reports. However, the Scouts have said they would not use it beyond youth-related activities if the amendment failed.

With more than 95 percent of precincts reporting statewide, Amendment 1 passed by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent, according to various published reports. The results in Fayette County, where the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve is located, were essentially reversed, with 61 percent voting against and 39 percent in favor. More than 9,000 votes were cast in Fayette County while almost 400,000 were cast statewide in West Virginia’s 55 counties. Unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s office were not yet available at this posting.

Now it will be up to the state Legislature to develop rules and regulations to provide guidance to Boy Scouts as to how many events per year could be held there. Supporters of the measure tout economic development and a boost in tourism that would come from hosting more event at the facility. Opponents of the state ballot measure feared that it would set a precedent for other nonprofits but also be unfair to area businesses that also offer high-adventure and other outdoor activities.

The 10,600-acre tract in Fayette County’s Glen Jean, about 50 miles southeast of the state capital Charleston, is the permanent home of the National Scout Jamboree. But the Irving, Texas-based nonprofit hopes to periodically rent the facility for outdoor events, things like the X Games or Mountain Dew tour. The reserve includes adventure facilities, like zip-lines, as well as mountain bike trails, a BMX track and shooting and archery ranges, with camping capacity for 40,000, 80,000-seat stadium and high-adventure base.

As it stands, the Scouts use the reserve only for the scout jamboree but renting the facility for non-youth events could jeopardize the organization’s exemption from state property taxes, per a 1944 Supreme Court of Appeals ruling so a constitutional amendment was necessary.

In a prepared statement, Boy Scouts of America thanked the state’s voters for passing the ballot measure but did not comment on results locally in Fayette County. “When we chose this site, 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 large scale.

“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.”