New Martinsville City Council will hold a special meeting today at 6:30 p.m. The agenda includes seven items, perhaps most noteworthy is a recommendation for a Business and Occupation Tax increase.
Council raised the tax on Sept. 10, 2012, by 250 percent in several categories including manufacturing, retailers, wholesalers, contracting, amusement, services, rentals, and banking. Businesses such as gravel, sand, hotel occupancy, and utilities did not increase. Recorder Bonnie Shannon said those that did not change were already set at the highest level allowed by law.
However, council repealed the controversial hike on Nov. 5, 2012, after they met a firestorm of complaints from local business owners and managers.
The city's finance committee will meet today at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the B&O ordinance as well as insurance premiums, spending freeze, Obamacare part-time/seasonal worker rules, municipal fees, and the New Martinsville Parks and Recreation Commission in reference to the Bruce Park miniature golf project. The latter will be the subject of an informational meeting, also today, at 5 p.m. That issue is also on the agenda for the 6:30 p.m. council meeting.
The finance committee also met on Jan. 31 to discuss the B&O tax. Approximately 40 people, mostly business owners, attended that meeting and offered their thoughts on the city's financial situation.
When the floor was opened for public comment, Don Riggenbach, owner of the Riggenbach Tile & Carpet and president of the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce, was the first to speak. He thanked the city for notifying the business community of the meeting and said he assumed they were looking for input on the business and occupation (B&O) tax. While that tax had been raised last year, council voted to rescind the change before it went into effect and said they would revisit the issue later.
Mayor Keith Nelsen said the city was looking for ideas to save the city money. He added that they had already asked all department heads not to spend money needlessly. "I'm hopeful that all our department heads will do that in earnest," he added.
Riggenbach said the B&O tax was probably the easiest way for the city to generate more revenue, but added "most of us are probably here to say, 'Let's look at other avenues as well.'"
"I think we can resolve it as a community," said Nelsen.
Riggenbach asked that the city "try to run city council like we all run our businesses." He said the first step is always to cut expenses.
Mindy Mall, Wetzel County West Virginia University Extension Agent and active member of the chamber, asked if there is an accountability program to make sure all businesses operating in the city are paying their fair share. Recorder Shannon said there are some checks in place.
Dan McConaughey of Presto Lunch said he read in the Wetzel Chronicle that some department heads were having trouble knowing their budgets-the first step for anyone with financial problems.
"If you're going to ask us for more money, we need to know where that money is being spent," he said.
Brenda Botizan, CPA, agreed. She said the city is coming them to words, but asked them where their figures were. "If you provide us with your financials and your information, then maybe we can be a part of that."
Shannon said the city is having software problems with the billing office on the general budget, but she can provide a detailed budget for anyone who requests it.
Councilwoman Iris "Deaner" Isaacs said she has checked the city's spending. "There are places we can save money and I've brought it to their attention," she said, without elaborating.
Nelsen said he looks at every single invoice in the city and if he has any questions, he takes it to the corresponding department head for an explanation. "Nearly everybody is within their budget at this point," said Nelsen.
"Can we do better?" Isaacs asked rhetorically. "Yes we can." She further noted that the city's health insurance is self-insured "and that has hit us pretty hard." Only new city employees contribute to their health insurance coverage.
When speaking of the mostly non-contribution health insurance, Nelsen explained that the city employees haven't had a raise in six years. That statement was in met with an outcry of "Neither have I!" from the businesspeople.
Further explaining the city's health insurance issue, Shannon said the city does have stop-loss insurance that covers insurance claims over $35,000 per employee. Also, she said the city is making provisions to possibly get out of the self-insurance situation next year. They have been self-insured since about 1990.
Dan Witschey of Witschey Contracting questioned the city's fleet of vehicles. "Surely to goodness everybody doesn't need a vehicle," he said. Nelsen said the city has trimmed its fleet some and vehicles are not being driven home as much as in the past.
Steve Hunt of S&S Jewelry told council that he took a 50 percent cut in pay four or five years ago when the economy took a down turn and he still hasn't raised it. "It came very close to me almost losing my business," said Hunt.
Explaining how they stayed afloat, Hunt said they cut expenses by running their business differently. "If anything, put the B&O tax (increase) off as long as you can," pleaded Hunt. "Businesses are still struggling."
Currently the city's B&O tax generates approximately $775,00 per year.