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Proposed city sales tax advances

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston's proposed half-cent sales tax inched ahead Monday as City Council members held a public hearing and introduced an ordinance related to the measure.

The sales tax, which Mayor Danny Jones first pitched in February to help pay for improvements to the aging Civic Center, could raise an estimated $6.2 million each year.

But Jones also wants to lower the business and occupation tax on retail sales and eliminate B&O taxes for manufacturers -- at a cost of $2.6 million a year.

City Treasurer Vic Grigoraci spoke out against the B&O tax reductions at the public hearing.

"I do commend the mayor for his proposal to improve the Civic Center. It sorely needs it," Grigoraci said. "And I support a sales tax.

"But I would ask that we comprehensively look at all our needs ... especially our underfunded police and fire pension funds.

"My real concern is the proposal to reduce and eliminate the B&O tax," he said. "I don't see the logic of giving up $2.6 million." The city has an unfunded pension liability of $352 million, with no clear plan to pay it off, he said.

"Suppose we have this extra $2.6 million," Grigoraci said. "Imagine what we could do with that. We could have a larger bond issue [for the Civic Center]. We could build a new Kanawha County library. What about roads? What about streets?"

The city could set aside $500,000 a year into a library building fund, and tap it if a new library gets built, he said.

No one else spoke at the public hearing, and Jones had no comment.

A bill introduced Monday authorizes the city to apply to the state Municipal Home Rule Board to amend Charleston's home rule plan, adopted five years ago under the state's pilot home rule program. The amendment would allow the city to levy the proposed half-cent sales tax.

Council's Home Rule Committee will take up the bill on April 8.

City Manager David Molgaard said Monday he hopes to get a ruling from the Home Rule Board in the next month or two. The five-year pilot home rule plan is set to expire later this year unless the Legislature agrees to extend it. A state bill to extend and expand the program is under review at the Legislature.

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


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