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Parkersburg also approves a 1 percent sales tax

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Parkersburg City Council gave final approval to a 1 percent municipal sales tax Tuesday, but several other motions failed as 4-4 ties, including the selection of a council president and vice president and creation of a land reuse agency.

“We now have seen a divide after two years in the council,” outgoing council President John Rockhold said after the meeting.

Council has met twice this month with eight members instead of nine while a decision is being made on who will replace District 7 Councilman John Kelly, who resigned Nov. 30 to join the West Virginia House of Delegates.

The city’s Republican executive committee officially submitted the names of three candidates to Mayor Bob Newell on Monday. Newell originally hoped to select someone in time for Tuesday’s meeting, from which he was absent, but said because he was not familiar with all of them he planned to interview the nominees today before making his choice.

Now, it appears whoever is chosen – freight company account executive Robert Noland, U.S. Army veteran Aaron Read or attorney Debra Steed – will be the swing vote in determining the next council president and vice president.

After four votes for president came back split between current Council Vice President Nancy Wilcox and District 5 Councilman J.R. Carpenter, the group finally voted 5-3 to postpone the election of officers to its Jan. 14 meeting.

Wilcox was backed by Rockhold, Councilwoman Sharon Lynch and Councilman Jim Reed, who participated by phone, while Carpenter was supported by Councilman Roger Brown, Councilwoman Kim Coram and Councilman Mike Reynolds.

The final readings of the municipal sales tax ordinance and an accompanying reduction in business and occupation taxes each passed 7-1, with Brown opposed. Both are allowed under the city’s participation in West Virginia’s home rule program.

The state will start collecting the additional sales tax July 1. Because there could be delays in the city receiving the revenue and uncertainty over how much money the tax will generate, the city was granted permission to delay the B&O cuts for two quarters.

Carpenter made a motion to put all revenue from the sales tax into a contingency fund until the “trial period” was over and “until such time as we can reduce the citizens’ fees.” It failed 5-3, with only Brown, Coram and Carpenter voting for it.

As he did at last week’s meeting, when Brown moved to eliminate the city’s police and floodwall fees along with the B&O cuts, City Attorney Joe Santer warned that making premature changes to the city’s funding could result in an unbalanced budget.

Finance Director Ashley Flowers also reiterated her warning that changing the ordinance, which was approved earlier this month by the state home rule board, would cause the city to resubmit its proposal, which could delay implementation of the tax until July 1, 2016.

Conservative estimates indicate the sales tax could bring in $4.7 million while the B&O cuts would cost the city just $2.1 million.

Delaying the B&O cuts “is not to create any sort of windfall of money or anything like that; it’s to protect the city,” she said.

Any additional revenue could be put toward the city’s looming pension deficits, Flowers said.

A vote between Lynch and Reynolds for vice president also ended in a 4-4 tie with the same split as president, before council voted to push that decision to January as well.

Santer told council the election of officers at the last meeting of the year was a tradition but not something required by the city charter. The charter only addresses the election of officers after a new council is seated. In that case, the city clerk serves as the presiding officer, and that’s how Santer advised council to proceed.

“If you know in your heart of hearts that you’re not going to change your vote, why are we going to sit here and keep repeating this same thing over and over again,” he said.

The first vote to postpone also ended in a 4-4 tie, with Wilcox and her supporters voting against it. Rockhold suggested the no voters reconsider, and he voted to postpone on a second motion.

The second reading of an ordinance establishing the Parkersburg Land Reuse Agency, which would have been able to buy, sell and manage property, also failed after coming to a 4-4 tie with Brown, Coram, Carpenter and Reynolds voting yes and Wilcox, Lynch, Reed and Rockhold voting no.

Wilcox first made a motion to delay the final reading to the January meeting, but it failed by the same 4-4 split, with only her, Lynch, Reed and Rockhold voting yes.

Wilcox said it made sense to wait because Coram was scheduled to make a presentation on a change in the Urban Renewal Authority’s process later in the evening and there was still some question over whether a council representative would be a voting member of the agency’s board.

“It’s not something that’s an emergency,” she said.

Reynolds pointed out that the ordinance had been amended to add a council member as a non-voting board member. Lynch said after the meeting that she wanted to reconsider that.

Coram, who has lobbied for creation of the agency for several months, said she was very disappointed with the outcome.

“It was a very good tool for our community to change the face of the slum and dilapidated properties,” she said.

Coram, Rockhold and Carpenter all indicated a desire to bring the ordinance back before council.

Lynch and Wilcox left before the start of the Urban Renewal Authority meeting, which immediately followed council, and Reed had to end his phone call. Lynch said she had to go because the meeting lasted longer than she anticipated.

The remaining five members of council voted 4-1, with Rockhold opposed, to postpone the authority meeting until Jan. 14.

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