Weirton B&O Tax Vote Regrettable

Weirton City Council members face one of those rock-and-a-hard-place dilemmas. They either have to find a lot more money for municipal government or slash city services.

A gap of $1.6 million between the cost of city operations and revenue available to pay for them has been predicted for the fiscal year that begins next July 1. Weirton residents probably would not put up with a reduction in services to cover the shortfall.

But council’s approval of a new business and occupation tax structure also has been controversial – with good reason.

Business owners do not like the idea of paying higher taxes. A few have said the B&O tax will prompt them to move their operations outside city limits. Three businesses went to court in a futile attempt to prevent council from voting on the matter this week.

Their complaint was rejected by Circuit Judge David Sims on the grounds that, in essence, he could not prevent council from voting on the B&O tax.

The three businesses – and other critics of council – are upset about how the tax vote was handled.

Earlier this year, council voted narrowly to reject the tax. Then, on June 10, 1st Ward Councilman Ronnie Jones – one of the earlier “no” votes – resigned because he planned to move outside his ward.

That changed the balance of power on council, because the 1st Ward vacancy has not yet been filled. A new 1st Ward council member is expected to be sworn in Monday. That may explain why councilmen in favor of the tax set a vote for this week.

Engineering a vote to take advantage of the vacancy meant some Weirton residents had no councilman present. It also was abuse of the process of representative government, as many people understand it. Remember the pre-Revolution demand – “no taxation without representation”?

Again, council has to take action to keep the budget balanced. But new options for that may be available if the city gets state “home rule” authority.

Perhaps the three councilmen who pushed the B&O tax through on Tuesday believe sincerely that they were making the kind of tough call required of municipal leaders. But their method of getting around opposition to the tax will not sit well with many Weirton residents and business owners – and it should not.