B&O Reduction Placed on Hold

WHEELING – City Council on Tuesday passed Wheeling’s $31.49 million 2014-15 budget and took the first of two steps delaying about $1.1 million in business and occupation tax reductions that had been set to go into effect April 1.

Following the unanimous votes – 6-0, with Mayor Andy McKenzie absent – City Manager Robert Herron said he will follow through on council’s request to delve deeper into the tax code and propose more comprehensive changes while, at the same time, suggesting ways to reduce the size and cost of city government.

“As has been directed to me by City Council, we will be doing a thorough review of the B&O structure over the next three months, with recommendations to come back in June,” Herron said, adding those recommendations may ultimately require the city to seek approval through the state’s Municipal Home Rule Board.

The B&O reduction passed last year as a companion measure to offset the city’s new 0.5-percent sales tax.

But sales tax revenue hasn’t met initial expectations, and Herron raised questions during the budget process as to whether the proposed method of B&O relief is fair – adding many of the businesses who stand to see the most benefit from B&O relief aren’t affected by the sales tax increase.

Even though some council members said they’d been approached by business owners who expressed concern about the B&O relief delay, no one signed up to speak during a public hearing that opened Tuesday’s meeting.

The ordinance passed Tuesday deals only with a proposed 26-percent reduction in the B&O rate on retail businesses. Council will hold another public hearing March 25 before voting on a separate ordinance delaying the proposed elimination of B&O tax on manufacturing.

Mayor Andy McKenzie proposed that measure during a budget work session last week, but there was not enough time to get it on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

In other business Tuesday, council voted to spend $122,282 to purchase a new ambulance for the fire department from J&J Emergency Vehicle Sales of Morgantown.

The purchase was only on first reading Tuesday, but Herron – noting the city likely will have to borrow an ambulance for some special events this summer due to problems with an existing vehicle – asked council to approve an emergency second reading.

Council also approved spending a total of $142,840 to demolish 15 dilapidated homes throughout the city.

That cost includes $34,940 for Raze International of Shadyside to perform asbestos abatements at 12 of the structures.

The contractor for the actual demolitions will be Edgco Inc. of Shadyside.

The structures to be demolished include two houses at 195 and 197 15th St. – across from the future J.B. Chambers Recreation Park site – destroyed by fire in December 2012. The list also includes two other houses on 151 and 191 15th St.

About $94,000 of the total cost of abatement and demolition will come from federal Community Development Block Grant funding, with the rest to be paid from the general fund.

The CDBG demolition list includes 622 and 1170 Grandview Ave., 845 McColloch St., 179 Lane 15, 1710 Wetzel St., 125 1/2 14th St., 426 Highland Ave., 3946 1/2 Wood St., and 328, 400 and 2232 Highland Ave.

Council also passed a number of traffic rules, including approval of handicapped parking spaces in front of 54 13th St. and 402 Warwood Ave.; no-parking zones on the north side of Louisa Avenue and on the east side of Lane B; and a no parking zone on Tuesdays only in front of 155 Elm St.