Chamber clarifies stance

To the Editor,

Regarding budget discussions at the City of Weirton, we would like to clarify some of the misstatements regarding the Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce’s position.

The City filed a balanced budget with the Secretary of State for the fiscal year beginning July 1. This balanced budget was based on current revenues and there was no mention of employee or service reductions. In short, there is no immediate budget crisis.

Based on comments by the administration, the $1.6 million shortfall is comprised of several factors: equipment replacement, new equipment purchases and replacement of the City’s contingency fund.

While these are legitimate financial goals that need addressed, none of them are “emergency” and all of them have been created over time. Trying to solve these long term needs in one year by placing the burden completely on local businesses is unfair and short sighted.

The Chamber agrees the City needs a long term financial plan to fund its needs but it must be based on shared sacrifice. The plan the majority of our members supported was an increase to the fire and service fee from .15 to .22 per foot for the first 500,00 square feet, an increase to the per household fee to $75 annually and the imposition of a cable franchise tax, thus sharing the burden of financing our community by the whole community.

Over 70 percent of any increase in the municipal fee would be shouldered by local businesses and not residents and the cap of 500,000 would not unfairly penalize any large business just based on size. The municipal fee rate has not been increased for the past 14 years since it was enacted so this increase on businesses and residents would amount to an inflationary increase. In addition, Weirton is one of the only West Virginia municipalities that does not utilize a cable franchise tax.

This new revenue would allow the City to begin replacing equipment and “rainy day” funds while working towards a long term solution which we believe is a sales tax. West Virginia eliminated the state B&O tax because it was driving business away. Cities like Wheeling implemented a sales tax as a way to reduce their B&O to try and recruit retail businesses. An excise sales tax of one-half to 1 percent would generate more than adequate revenue for the City and would be paid not just by local businesses and residents, but by out of town residents who shop in Weirton

Our opposition to the B&O is simple; it costs jobs. B&O taxes are based on the gross sales of a business, even if that business is struggling to survive as is the case with many of our members. If the City increases the B&O as proposed, it will directly hit these employees of local businesses by eliminating their jobs and reducing hours worked. On behalf of our nearly 400 members, we are asking the Mayor, City Council and Administration to find a solution to Weirton’s fiscal challenges that does not fall exclusively on the backs of any single group, especially those families who depend on local businesses for a job.

Brenda Mull

President, Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce