WHEELING - In unanimous votes Tuesday, Wheeling City Council voted to impose a 0.5-percent sales tax within city limits and scale back its Business and Occupation Tax.
Businesses likely will begin charging the additional half-penny on the dollar beginning Oct. 1, according to City Manager Robert Herron. Meanwhile, starting April 1, the B&O tax rate will drop by 26 percent on retail businesses and disappear entirely on manufacturing and amusements.
Mayor Andy McKenzie has said B&O is one of the most archaic taxes on the books, and he believes reducing it will ease a burden on job creators in a location where one can drive just a few miles in either direction to Ohio or Pennsylvania, where there is no B&O tax.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Wheeling Councilman Ken Imer speaks with City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth prior to Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
City officials have pledged to spend additional revenue generated by the sales tax - an estimated $1.4 million after taking into account an expected $1 million reduction in B&O collections - to upgrade WesBanco Arena and address infrastructure needs.
An initial public hearing last month saw two residents speak in favor of the tax, but city leaders heard the other side of the debate Tuesday. Both residents who spoke during a public hearing prior to the vote worry that even though the total sales tax of 6.5 percent remains lower than in Ohio and Pennsylvania today, West Virginia may eventually raise its sales tax to 7 percent, pushing the rate charged in Wheeling higher than its neighbors.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways has indicated it may recommend a 1-percent statewide sales tax hike as a way to raise needed funds for road maintenance, but it's not clear how seriously the Legislature would look at that proposal.
John Lane said he opposes the tax because he believes it will negatively impact "persons of low income and the indigent." And, he added, the tax may hurt Wheeling businesses because city residents don't have to travel far to shop outside city limits and avoid the tax.
Martha Carra said she isn't necessarily against the sales tax but believes many people aren't considering its impact on the cost of services some would not think of as sales.
Herron said the city will send a copy of the ordinance to the state Tax Department today. State officials will then issue official notice to businesses of their obligation to collect the tax, and then wait until the first day of the calendar quarter that begins a minimum of 60 days after that notice is issued.
The B&O tax changes would go into effect April 1.
In other business, city leaders voted to renew Youth Services System Inc.'s lease of the former Lincoln School, where the nonprofit organization runs the Northern Regional Juvenile Detention Center for the state on a contract basis.
Council also heard from two Woodsdale residents who oppose businessman Charles Schlegel's request to have the former Salsa Cafe on Carmel Road designated as a redevelopment site. That designation would allow beer sales there despite its proximity to homes, city parks and other businesses licensed to serve alcohol.
Joan Sackett and Barbara Sweeney are fed up with disturbances and property damage they say are caused by patrons of bars in their neighborhood, and they don't want another business selling alcohol there.
Sackett said she constantly has to remove empty beer bottles from her yard and damage to her fence has cost her more than $1,000. She presented council with a petition signed by several neighborhood residents, as well as list of 71 complaints she said Carmel Road residents have lodged with police over the last two years.
Sweeney, a Birch Avenue resident, said she's witnessed brawls in the street, sexual activity in neighbors' yards and has even had people defecate on her property.
"This continues on until closing time. ... I don't understand why the bars need to be open until 3 in the morning. ... It's out of control in that neighborhood," she said.
Schlegel responded to the residents' comments, noting the restaurant would stay open no later than 8 p.m. and with limited seating capacity would cater largely to carryout customers.
He said he just wants to offer a place where responsible adults can have a beer with lunch.
"We have no interest in being a bar. It's a restaurant," Schlegel said.