WEIRTON - Weirton City Council voted 3 to 2, with one abstention, to approve an ordinance to amend the city's Business and Occupation tax in accordance with a budget scenario proposed by Ward 6 Councilman David Dalrymple at a special meeting Friday evening.
This vote came after nearly six months of budget workshops and committee meetings aimed at resolving a projected $1.6 million shortfall in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. The 2014-2015 fiscal year, a budget for which was passed earlier this year, begins July 1.
Dalrymple, Ward 2 Councilman Chuck Wright and Ward 4 Councilman George Ash Sr. voted "yes," while Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh and Ward 7 Councilman Terry Weigel voted "no." Ward 5 Councilman George Gaughenbaugh abstained.
City Council voted 3 to 2, with one abstention, to approve an ordinance to amend the business and occupation tax in accordance with a budget scenario proposed by Ward 6 Councilman David Dalrymple at a special meeting Friday evening. -- Shae Dalrymple
When asked by The Weirton Daily Times why he abstained, Gaughenbaugh was only willing to say there was a "conflict of interest." He would not elaborate.
The ordinance will require a second reading to pass, and agenda items related to the other steps within Dalrymple's plan are expected to see first readings at the next regular city council meeting.
Dalrymple's scenario proposes to enact the B&O tax with most categories set to 25 percent of their maximum allowable rate. Current B&O categories would remain the same, with production and utility categories set to 100 percent of the maximum allowable rate. Retail category would be set to 75 percent of the maximum allowable rate, which is 0.375 percent, with a $500,000 annual exemption ($125,000 per quarter). Service category would be set to 65 percent of the maximum allowable rate, which is 0.65 percent, with a $100,000 annual exemption ($25,000 per quarter). Contractor category would be set to 100 percent of the maximum allowable rate, which is 2 percent, with a $100,000 per project exemption. These were the changes encompassed by the ordinance voted on by Council during the special meeting.
The proposed scenario would also reduce the police and fire service fee by approximately 20 percent. Residential would decrease from $50 to $40. Commercial would decrease from 15 cents per square foot to 12 cents per square foot, and churches and schools would decrease from 8 cents per square foot to 6 cents per square foot.
The plan includes a stipulation that any excess funds superseding the projected $1.6 million budget gap "shall be targeted toward security."
Dalrymple's proposal would generate an estimated $1.7 million in additional revenue.
Regarding the reduction of the police and fire service fee, Dalrymple explained his logic behind the decrease.
"We want to show the residents and business community that we are willing to reduce a long-standing fee that has been in place since before my time. It's something we would do in order to soften the blow to businesses with larger square footage in the city at this time. It also would be a way to grant some of the larger square foot facilities like schools and churches a little bit of a reprieve from the fees they have been paying for over a decade," he said.
City council voted down a plan that contained the B&O option at the May 12 regular meeting, and two more scenarios stalled during Monday's regular meeting. One was tabled for further consideration, and the other was removed entirely. Neither one of the scenarios presented Monday involved changes to the B&O.
Public comments were permitted at the special meeting, and six residents approached the podium before the vote took place. Four local business owners spoke out against the B&O, and two other residents voiced support for it.
Ronnie Jones, First District representative in the House of Delegates, officially resigned from his post as Ward 1 Councilman at Monday's regular council meeting. That left Ward 1 without representation in city council's vote at the special meeting Friday, and several of the citizens who commented pointed that out.
According to the city charter, council has six weeks after Jones' official resignation (Tuesday) to appoint a resident of Ward 1 to the position. If they do not fill the position in that time, a special election will take place.
Dalrymple responded to the comments about the Ward 1 Council vacancy, noting that "Business does not stop because we are missing one councilman." He said that in his time on city council he has seen many acts of legislation passed without every councilman being present.
Dalrymple described the difficulty of the decision faced by council and defended the scenario he drafted.
"We do understand that it is a regressive tax. It's not desirable. However, with the options that we do have available, the other options were not able to meet the shortfall," he said. "We are at the point now where we're facing the possibility of cuts to staff and to services that residents deserve and need. If we lay off one or two or three city employees, it affects the greater good of the whole city; everyone. It would greatly, negatively impact the city. We can't afford to sacrifice safety and security."
Dalrymple also addressed comments about the choice to address the budget shortfall this year rather then next year, when it is predicted to occur.
"It is only our due diligence to try to take care of this problem now," he said before quoting journalist Hunter S. Thompson: "A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance."
Dalrymple said that if Weirton achieves Home Rule status, which is expected in the next few months, city council will look into implementing a sales tax.
"If we can get the money to work and it works the way we hope it would, then I will say here on record that we would definitely roll back the B&O in some shape or form," he said.
Mayor George J. Kondik promised the same.
"I've been a business leader for over 45 years. I've been in politics for this great City of Weirton for 18 years, and I have opposed the B&O tax since 1999. As your city leader, I have and I will pursue the sales tax. I feel as though that is probably the salvation for our city. I'm very sure that we will receive the Home Rule later this month. I respect everybody's view, and I've heard everybody's view. I believe the buck stops here," Kondik said.
Marsh weighed in on the decision as well.
"Since this first came up, everybody knows what my stance has been. The business entrepreneur is a survivor. The ones that are here now will adapt, should this pass. What I am more worried about is the message we send out to attract new businesses," he said. "I'm going to close with a quote from General George S. Patton: 'Politicians are the lowest form of life on Earth.'"
(Dalrymple can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)