Council Hears complaints on proposed City Service Fee
New Martinsville Business Owner Brenda Botizan addressed city council on Monday, Nov. 6 at itss regular scheduled meeting. Botizan expressed concerns regarding the newly proposed City Service fee.
Botizan, said she was at the meeting to address the fee; however she also questioned council about the Business and Occupation tax that was imposed several years ago. She asked council what the annual revenue was from the tax, and if there was ever an audit conducted on any city businesses. In response to the questions, City Recorder Bonnie Shannon stated she had never been given anything in writing, directing her to do an audit. However, she said, under state law, she has the right to do so. She also told Botizan the tax brings in approximately $1.245 million dollars per year.
Botizan asked what the B&O tax was used for. Shannon told her it was used to cover expenses for all the different departments. Mayor Steve Bohrer asked Botizan to get to the point of her address. She said she was concerned about the new City Service fee and the effect it would have on businesses and employees who work in New Martinsville. She said she felt it would be an accounting nightmare and would have an adverse effect on low-income people who work part -time in the city.
Botizan asked council if members had any idea how much money this new fee would generate. Shannon said council believed the monies would bring in around $200,000 per year; however the amount is not certain, only an estimate. It was explained to Botizan that the money would be collected quarterly. Botizan told council she believed the B&O tax would bring in more than enough money, if council were to conduct audits and making sure businesses were paying their fair share. She said she doubted the new fee would bring in as much as expected.
She was also concerned the fee would not raise enough revenue to meet the needs of the city, and thus, there would have to be adjustments later. Botizan said she felt council should reconsider the fee and look for alternative ways to generate funds. She asked if city employees pay a portion of their health insurance. Mayor Bohrer stated employees pay very little.
Also speaking against the new fee was Dave Hunt, a local business owner who also addressed the B&O tax. He said when the tax went into effect, some five years or so ago, it was designated to be used only for the police department. He claimed after the tax passed, it was used to give all city employees an across-the-board pay increase. Hunt said that really upset him. He said the city should be looking at ways to make the out-of-state oil and gas workers — who stay in hotels and rentals — pay as well. He said workers use the same city services as the non-resident workers. “They use our streets, our emergency workers, and all the other services we provide, but they are exempt because they work for companies who are not located inside the city limits,” he stated.
Hunt also questioned the city concerning water rates and inquired as to why oil and gas water trucks were able to fill their water trucks up at a low rate. Water Superintendent Pat Durant stated the trucks are filling up at a rate of $2 per thousand; he said the price for water for city residents is $29 per month for unlimited usage. He said residents are lucky they don’t have water meters, or they would be paying two to three times that much. Durant also said the rates for water are set by the Public Service Commission. “As for the water trucks we just had a 100 percent increase from $1 to $2 per thousand gallons.
Councilwomen Iris Isaacs said council has examined several different ways to raise funds, and the new service fee seems to be the fairest council could come up with. Mayor Bohrer stated the city is running on the bare minimum, and he is not in favor of raising taxes but the city is in a “Catch 22” situation. He mentioned that many cities and towns are using a service fee as a way to provide funds. He also said the state is making it legal for the cities to implement home rule, which gives the city the right to place taxes on goods sold in the community. He said if that happens, everyone will take advantage of it.
Council, on a recommendation from committee, held the first reading of the city service fee. The fee will assess non-residents of New Martinsville, working for city businesses $1.75 per week. If more than one non-resident — in one household — works in town, only one will be assessed providing they come in to city hall and sign a waiver. The first reading was unanimously approved.
Chief of Police Tim Cecil approached council with a request for a pay increase. Cecil said he has been chief for 14 years, and at this point, he is the third lowest-paid person in the police force. He said he works day and night and is always ready to respond at any time he is called. According to Cecil, his starting salary 14 years ago was $28,000. He said he requested a pay increase two months ago and has not heard a response to his request.
Cecil gave a rundown on the amount of arrests made in the city so far this year, which shows that he has made 107 arrests, second only to Sergeant Don Larsen’s 108. Larsen has 36 years on the force. Cecil said there has never been a time when he hasn’t responded when called upon for assistance. Councilwomen Isaacs, who is a part-time dispatcher, confirmed that anytime she has called Chief Cecil, he has showed up, whether it is night or day.
Sergeant Larsen also spoke on Cecil’s behalf, stating the chief is, by far, the most reliable chief Larsen has worked for in his 36 years as a New Martinsville police officer. Larsen said Cecil often puts his job ahead of his family. He goes above and beyond for this city and deserves to be compensated for his work.
Comparatively, Chief Cecil is among the lowest paid employees of the city. Others with higher wages or salaries include the Park and Recreation Director, Building Inspector, four employees of the Water and Sewer Department and all nine employees listed at the Hydro Plant.
Councilwomen Goddard told Chief Cecil that council would be holding a special meeting soon to discuss his request for a pay increase.
In other council happenings, Mayor Bohrer signed a proclamation — as instituted by Governor Jim Justice — declaring Christian Heritage Week in WV.
Also, council reported the North Street crossing had been repaired and is now much better and safer. Council approved a recommendation to hire two part-time employees until Dec. 31. They are to be used to help finish paving and cleanup.
Also, a recommendation to proceed with the clean-up project — after the appropriate forms have been executed –was approved. This clean up involves tearing down trailers and a house, and cleaning up the debris.
Final approval was given from council to proceed with the old city hall roofing project. It was noted the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce donated $5,000 for the project. The total bid for the project was $20,000.
Also approved was a recommendation to make repairs, as needed, to the old fire department ladder truck, to bring it in compliance. Costs for the repairs came in at $12,800 and will be taken from the sale of an old truck.
It was also approved to change specs on the department’s new ladder truck, so it will fit in the garage, and to allow a request from the fire department to dispose of surplus and outdated equipment.
Under new business, Terri Tyler, executive director of the Solid Waste Authority, invited everyone to participate in The Community Festival of Trees, She said this is the third year of the event, which has raised $10,000 the first two years. She mentioned businesses and organizations decorate the trees, and then those trees are auctioned off to the highest bidders, with the money going to the charities as decided by the Festival of Trees committee. This year’s charities are Friends of Paden City Pool, Wetzel County Hope and Memories, and Grow Local Go Local.
Council also approved the October council meeting minutes, the regular city invoices as approved following the department head meeting. Meeting was adjourned at 8:34 p.m.