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Tax bills and IPAWS warning system discussed during Berkeley County Council meeting

August 08, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The owner of an apartment rental property in Martinsburg was left off the tax rolls for more than 10 years, Berkeley County Assessor Larry Hess told the Berkeley County Council on Thursday.

Tax bills for 2002 through 2013 for a property at 229 S. Tennessee Ave. were not generated because it was listed as being owned by the state, according to Hess.

Hess said he was unaware of the oversight until being contacted by the property owner, K.T.L. Partnership of Hagerstown.

After Thursday’s meeting, Hess estimated the tax bill for the $544,920 in total assessments for the years in question could be about $15,000.

Louis Zandy of K.T.L. Partnership declined to comment Thursday other than to confirm he owned the property. The Hagerstown man said Karl Hafer and Tim Hafer are no longer partners in the West Virginia entity.

Hess said the property last appeared on the county’s land books in 2001.

The property was routinely appraised for assessment value by the assessor’s office since then, but the tax bills were not generated after it returned to private hands, Hess said.

Tax bills aren’t generated for a property sold to the state for taxes until the county receives clearance from the state that the property has been “redeemed,” Hess said.

The state auditor’s office is expected to address the issue involving the Tennessee Avenue property and return any taxes paid by the owner to the county, Hess said.

After Thursday’s meeting, Hess said reports are compiled that serve as an audit for the assessor’s office, but acknowledged that the property’s apparent “slip through the cracks” is a cause for concern that there could be others.

In other business Thursday, Berkeley County Council voted to enter into an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to use a system that will allow the county to send text-message-style alerts to residents’ cellphones about flood warnings and other emergencies.

Berkeley County joins Jefferson, Morgan and other counties across the state that are in the process of taking steps to use the Internet-based Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS, according to information provided by FEMA to county officials.

The warning system, established by a 2006 executive order of President George W. Bush, is already available for use by the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and several southern West Virginia counties, according to the system’s engineering branch chief Mark Lucero.

IPAWS provides the infrastructure for the president to directly alert and warn the nation of a national emergency, but also allows federal, state, territorial, tribal and local officials to use the system and send mobile alerts and warnings, including AMBER alerts for missing children and National Weather Service warnings, in their respective areas.

Lucero assured county council members Thursday that the texts would not count against a cellphone users’ texting plan. He also said phone owners will retain the right to opt out and not receive most of the text alerts.

Cellphone owners will not be able to opt out of messages sent by the president via the warning system, officials said.

Lucero also assured county leaders that there would be no cost to the county for the use of the alert system. The agreement with FEMA is for three years, officials said.

Exactly when the system will be able to be available for use by the county wasn’t clear Thursday.

Lucero and Stephen Allen, director of the Berkeley County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said they would need little more than a week to begin using the warning system, but still need the state to take certain steps to bring it online.

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