Final home rule reading passes 7-1 in Parkersburg

PARKERSBURG – Parkersburg City Council approved the final reading of an ordinance for Parkersburg’s home rule application Tuesday with no discussion in a meeting that lasted about 10 minutes.

Council voted 7-1, with Councilwoman Nancy Wilcox opposed and Councilwoman Sharon Lynch absent, to approve submission of an application to join West Virginia’s expanded home rule program.

Proposals in the city’s application include implementation of a 1 percent sales tax in exchange for business and occupation tax reductions as well as expanded powers aimed at helping the city recover costs from dealing with vacant, dilapidated properties.

The application, if approved, gets the city into the program, but separate ordinances would be required to enact the provisions, which could be changed. Still, Wilcox said opposition from residents in her district convinced her to vote against the ordinance Tuesday, after it passed unanimously on May 6.

“I just had a lot of constituents call me, and they’re not wanting it,” she said. “It’s got some goods, and it’s got some bads.”

The proposal calls for the B&O tax on manufacturing, natural gas and electric, light and power to be eliminated, with the rate on retail and restaurant businesses dropping by 30 percent. Utilities currently pass along their B&O tax to customers, so that amount would be saved by residents and businesses.

The B&O reductions are expected to cost the city about $2.1 million in revenue. Conservative projections place the revenue from the sales tax at $4.7 million. Mayor Bob Newell has said that depending on how much is actually saved, further B&O reductions could be considered.

Applications are due with the state on June 1. There are 15 slots, and Newell said he’s heard more than 20 cities plan to apply. The mayor said he hopes Vienna, which is also considering a 1 percent sales tax, is approved along with Parkersburg.

“It’ll put all three cities in this county on the same page as far as taxation,” Newell said, noting Williamstown already charges a 1 percent sales tax instead of B&O. “The thought was all along … we wanted to both have the same authority and not compete against each other.”

Earlier in the evening, the Finance Committee voted 5-0, with Lynch participating by phone, to forward to the full council a resolution authorizing Newell to enter an agreement with the West Virginia Small Business Development Center to establish an office in the city building. The person hired for that office would be a contract employee of both the West Virginia Development Office and the city, with the state paying $40,000 of the salary and the city picking up $15,000, plus up to $5,000 in travel expenses.

The Public Works Committee voted 4-0, with Councilman Mike Reynolds absent, to table an agreement with the National League of Cities-endorsed Utility Service Partners Inc. to provide water, sewer and natural gas line warranties for residents. City Attorney Joe Santer said he had questions about the terms of the agreement and cautioned the city against endorsing a for-profit business’ services.

The company will not offer services without an agreement with the city, which Jim Hunt, adviser to the League’s Service Line Warranty Program, said lets residents know the operation is legitimate. He and Utility Service Partners Inc. regional account manager Mike Chambers said they would send Santer the information he requested.