Divided Council Votes to Pass B&O Tax in Weirton

WEIRTON – A divided City Council approved an ordinance to expand the business and occupation tax Tuesday.

Councilmen David Dalrymple, George Ash Sr. and Chuck Wright voted in favor, while councilmen Fred Marsh and Terry Weigel voted against. Fifth Ward Councilman George Gaughenbaugh ab-stained, citing a conflict of interest. He did not elaborate.

The tax is being expanded to help make up for a projected $1.6 million shortfall in the municipal budget in the 2015-16 fiscal year. The 2014-15 fiscal year began yesterday.

Citizen comments were allowed at a special meeting after 3rd Ward Councilman Fred Marsh motioned to amend the agenda and council voted in favor of it.

Doug Jackson, president of Anesthesia Associates and a Marland Heights property owner, said that the B&O tax will cause the city to no longer feel like home to him.

“I employ a lot of people at a very high tax bracket … I am now faced with the fact that I have to either lay people off or relocate my businesses elsewhere,” Jackson said. “I would ask you all what other options have we seen? I would like for those of us that own businesses to have a greater say. I would like to know how many of you on City Council own your own business.”

Dr. George Roig, chief of anesthesia at Weirton Medical Center, brought City Council’s attention to a ranking of the five worst states for business in the U.S., in which West Virginia placed third, finishing last for business friendliness.

“I think a B&O tax is probably the worst thing we can do … I think the business community has a better idea on how to generate the revenue that is needed for the work that needs to be done here,” Roig said. “I have not heard one person say they’re sorry to those individuals who could potentially lose their jobs. I would ask that you do that today if you give it a ‘yes’ vote.”

The path to a vote on the matter was cleared Tuesday morning, when Circuit Court Judge David J. Sims dismissed a request for an injunction against the city filed by three area businesses hoping to prevent the vote from occurring.

Tri-State Medical, Ocean-Air International Inc. and Startrans International Inc., were represented by lawyer Kevin M. Pearl. They claimed the city violated the state’s open meetings laws and Robert’s Rules of Order in the process of implementing the B&O tax, and also cited the current vacancy of a 1st Ward representative after the June 10 resignation of Ronnie Jones.

In his order, Sims stated the court does not have the authority to grant the request, as the tax had not yet been enacted into law. Additionally, Mazzone said the court did not have the authority to intervene in the ongoing legislative process.

Despite the setback, J.J. Bernabei, owner of Tri-State Medical, said his fight against the B&O tax would not be ended by this vote.

“It was dismissed without prejudice, which means we can bring the injunction back if the ordinance passes. That’s exactly what we’re going to do,” he said.

The B&O tax will go into effect in 30 days, and rates will be set in accordance with a budget scenario proposed by 6th Ward Councilman Dalrymple.