By Lyra Bordelon
The Alderson Town Council approved a 1 percent Business and Inventory Tax (B&O) on gross revenue for businesses in town during the Thursday, April 8, meeting of council.
Mayor Travis Copenhaver explained that due to legislative changes, the town was operating at a deficit.
“This is the tightest, nastiest budget I’ve ever had to administer,” Copenhaver said. “I’m ashamed of where we’re at with what we’re doing on the B&O Tax, but you all will remember it was the most backwards B&O Tax in West Virginia. … We can assess the fines and costs, but we lost the ability to attach drivers licenses, income tax, anything the state of West Virginia gives you. That cut our budget $37,000, over ten percent of what our operating budget was. … That’s a police officer, that’s the reality of where we are right now.”
A few members of the business community voiced their concerns over what the tax could do to the local businesses already struggling during the past year of COVID-19.
“The problem is, right now, [that] it’s been the worst year ever,” said Sarah Alderson of The Alderson Store. “It just seems like the timing is bad and there are people on the edge waiting, and maybe not opening again. It may seem like a straw, but it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s enough, to me, that it’ll affect the little guys. I would feel much better if it were a tiered one, like in Lewisburg, like in White Sulphur.”
The ordinance would apply to those selling tangible goods and manufacturing, but does not include some service-as-goods businesses, such as healthcare providers.
“Upon every person engaging or continuing within the municipality in the business of selling any tangible property whatsoever, real or personal, including the sale of food in hotels, restaurants, cafeterias, confectioneries and other public eating houses and wholesale sales from a rolling stockpile, except sales of any person engaging or continuing in the business of horticulture, agriculture or grazing, or selling stocks, bonds, or other evidence of indebtedness, there is hereby levied, and shall be collected, the tax shall be equal to ONE percent (1%) of the gross income of the business,” reads the ordinance.
Copenhaver acknowledged this could be difficult, but also noted they would have to cut services if more funding wasn’t raised from somewhere.
“I full well feel your pain as you, as a business person, feel your pain,” Copenhaver said. “… I’ll turn it around – I can’t raise my prices. The municipality’s prices are regulated by the public service commission. If I raise your water rate right now, it does not fix this black hole because [we manage three budgets], water, sewer, and the general fund. … I’m asking you, if we don’t do this, what do we do?”
The tax was passed on 3-2 vote by council, with Councilmembers Tod Hanger and Charlie Lobban voting against.
This is not the only budget concern however – a typo on an excess levy authorization has left 2021 without a portion of funding for the streets department.
“What it means is [we have to slash] a lot from streets to make this budget balanced,” Copenhaver said. “… What’s on the election calendar for this time is what should have been, but there was a mistake made previously. The auditor’s office didn’t catch it, we didn’t catch it, and we caught it this time in our budget for the auditor to approve.”
However, due to an upcoming street repair project, Copenhaver noted the effect this mistake could have had is diminished.
“In of itself, nothing is changing on face value,” Copenhaver said. “But  was missed, and that year is coming. … We’ve got a project coming up, so we’re going to tear the heck out of streets. We know the streets that need to be paved. We know I’m not going to worry about paving those streets because there’s no point if we’re just going to tear them up anyway.”
In other business:
– The liquidation of a city vehicle, a Durango, was approved.
– Zach Gain with Thrasher Engineering noted the possibility the town is working toward a new water treatment plant. Gain explained “there’s a flood mitigation fund that’s available for Greenbrier County and a few other towns. Region 4 came to the mayor and Thrasher to set up a meeting to discuss the use of those funds for some additional planning. … We’ve got a budget of about $800,000 to do plant upgrades and with the monies available, we believe that it’s a good time [to], instead of upgrading an old plant which in ten years might need additional upgrades, instead to build a brand new plant out of the floodplain that would have a 40 year life and [be] more favorable, from an operations standpoint.”
– An appointment to the library board was approved.
– Mary Surbaugh with the Greenbrier Watershed Association spoke in favor of a Make It Shine day for Alderson, looking to provide supplies for volunteers cleaning up the city.