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Jones pitches tax plan to council

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mayor Danny Jones urged City Council members Monday to approve his plan to help finance Civic Center improvements through a 0.5 percent city sales tax.

Also Monday, Jones told council members he plans to continue funding Multifest after a change in leadership there, and updated council on attempts by some state legislators to overturn the city's restrictive gun laws.

Jones, City Manager David Molgaard and Finance Director Joe Estep spent much of an extended meeting of council's Finance Committee to lobby for the new tax, which would be coupled with reductions in the city's business and occupation taxes.

Jones unveiled the proposal during a news conference two weeks ago, saying the plan could net an estimated $3.6 million a year to pay for improvements to the aging Civic Center. The plan has been available for public viewing since Wednesday, according to legal ads run in the Gazette, Molgaard said.

The city needs to move quickly on the tax plan because it can only impose a new tax under the experimental home rule program passed by the Legislature about five years ago. Charleston needs to get permission from the Municipal Home Rule Board to amend its home rule plan, Molgaard said, because the city's original home rule plan did not include a city sales tax.

It's unclear whether the Legislature will extend the original five-year home rule program.

"Our home rule is going to expire in June, so if we're going to make a change, we need to do it now," Jones said.

Councilman Ed Talkington said he could live with parts of Jones' plan -- the 0.5 percent sales tax, the elimination of the B&O tax on manufacturing -- but did not support a reduction in the B&O tax on retail sales. "I don't think any establishments will move into Charleston because of a reduced B&O tax."

Jones said the proposed cut was small -- from 0.5 percent to 0.35 percent. "This is a slight way to say, 'We'll help you.' This is a way to use home rule to change a few things."

The tax cuts might help placate legislators who would otherwise oppose any increase in taxes, he said. "I need to present a balanced proposal to the Legislature."

Council took no immediate action on the tax plan. It will probably vote in late April, after an April 1 public hearing, on home rule proposal to add a sales tax, Molgaard said. If the home rule board OKs that, council could later vote on a second ordinance to implement the tax, he said.

In other business at the Finance meeting Monday, council members went over details of the proposed 2013-14 city budget of $87.3 million, up 3.7 percent from the current budget.

Jones proposed a few changes in funding to outside organizations, including:

* An extra $25,000 for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, raising the amount to $125,000. Jones cut the health department funding in half several years ago in a dispute with leadership.

* A $10,000 donation from Jones' economic development fund for the state Municipal League's annual meeting in August, in Charleston.

* $15,000 in continued funding for Multifest, after new board members there reassured Jones and others that financial problems were over.

Finally, Jones said members of the House of Delegates were ready to pass a number of gun bills that would affect the city, including one that would overturn restrictions on gun sales.

"I don't know what's going to happen in the Senate, but it's pretty close," he said.

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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