By Bobby Bordelon
The implementation of a one percent business and occupation tax in Alderson was delayed by Town Council during the regular meeting on May 13. Mayor Travis Copenhaver placed the item on the agenda after councilmembers received more feedback from the community, allowing them to once again consider the tax. However, if it will be rescinded completely remains unclear.
Copenhaver noted, similarly to when it was enacted, that new budget deficits totaling approximately $37,000 were related to changes enacted by the West Virginia Legislature. Rather than cutting police or services, the city enacted the new tax in April.
“I full well feel your pain as you, as a business person, feel your pain,” Copenhaver said in April. “… 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?”
Several possibilities were discussed to make up for the lost revenue, such as splitting the tax into a tiered system to omit some businesses. Another possibility would be to change to ordinance to reflect net profits, rather than gross expenditure.
“We’ve been open for 36 months at the Corner Store across the bridge,” explained Bobby Ortman. “Between COVID and being sick, I’ve been closed for 20 months. I haven’t turned a profit in three years. When I spend $1,000, I have to make $3,000 back. … When you’re talking gross, that’s actually 3 percent. … I can’t afford three or four percent. …If it’s not on gross, it would be easier to swallow, but if there’s a tiered way to do it, [it would help]. It wouldn’t be easy, none of this is easy.”
Copenhaver noted that City Attorney Grady Ford was looking into gross/net distinction and making sure it would be legal to do so. Recorder Betty Thomas pushed back, noting the final bill on a $3,000 expense at one percent.
“With one percent, if you spend $3,000, how much are you giving the town?” Thomas asked. “$30 dollars. That’s it. … If you do $100,000 worth of business in a month, that’s $1,000.”
Sarah Alderson, manager of The Alderson Store, returned this month as well, noting that “this last year about killed us.”
Council unanimously approved a motion from Lobban to pause the implementation of the tax. Lobban explained he “voted no then and would vote no now” on its implementation. Whether this means the tax will be changed, implemented as is, or with a tier system remains to be seen.
“I know that you guys are here because you don’t like the idea of the one percent,” Copenhaver said to business owners present. “We, as a group, did not want to go down this route.”
In other business:
– The Alderson water project is actually two projects, Copenhaver noted after receiving questions from residents. One is a $6.3 million project, paid for through loans and a rate increase, and another is an $8 million project paid for by hazard mitigation grants to move the water plant from outside of the flood zone. In addition, the $470,000 in expected funds from the American Rescue Plan are going to be saved for a future project, due to funding for the $6.3 million project already being in place.
– Despite some changes to the ordinance approved on Thursday, ATVs and UTVs will still be allowed on city roads if they are properly tagged and registered with the city. After the first set of 50 tags are now in use or soon will be, the city had to order the next set.
– A vote on forming a review board for the Alderson Police Department was delayed to get more specific language for the ordinance. Chief J.R. Rusty Byer noted the board would be formed from a representative from the Fraternal Order of Police, a representative of the business community, and another representative, each considered by Town Council. The board is expected to be further considered next month.