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Public skips Martinsburg home rule hearing

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — No one attended a public hearing Tuesday evening during a special meeting of the Martinsburg City Council to comment on proposed ordinances that council members want to enact under the West Virginia Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program Phase II.

The hearing was required by the Home Rule legislation. The proposed ordinances were available for public review for the past 30 days. Two legal advertisements were published in The Journal announcing the public hearing and that the proposed ordinances were available for review.

A letter from Hank Walter of HDW LLC, doing business as Whale of a Wash coin laundry at 601 Winchester Ave., was received, requesting that the city exempt vending machines from the sales tax.

“We can only exempt sales receipts that are exempted by state code and we can only tax those things that are taxable by state code, and sales receipts from vending machines are not exempt from sales tax in the state code,” Kin Sayre, the City Council’s attorney, said Tuesday. “We are required to tax sales receipts from vending machines.”

Sayre said the city’s proposed 1 percent sales tax ordinance was reviewed by the state tax department, which recommended some technical changes to definitions in the city’s proposed ordinance to comply with state code.

“Our ordinance must mirror state code,” Sayre said. “It has been changed, but the changes do not change the intent of the ordinance.”

A revised copy of the city’s proposed ordinance with the changes was distributed at the hearing.

Council members unanimously approved a resolution authorizing Mayor George Karos to submit the proposed ordinances to the Home Rule Board for review. The five-member Home Rule Board oversees the Home Rule program.

Sayre, who is a member of the Home Rule Board, said the board would meet Dec. 1 to review Martinsburg’s proposed ordinances as well as the proposed ordinances of several of the other cities that were selected by the board to take part in the second phase of the Home Rule Pilot Program.

“The board will either approve or amend or return the ordinances,” Sayre said. “Hopefully, Martinsburg will be able to implement the first parts of its Home Rule program in January.”

If the Home Rule Board approves Martinsburg’s proposed sales tax, it would take effect July 1, 2015, Sayre said after the meeting.

Under the Home Rule legislation, the city must reduce or eliminate its business and occupation tax to assess the sales tax. The city has proposed to eliminate the B&O tax on amusement businesses and reduce the B&O tax by 10 percent on retail and wholesale businesses.

That combination would generate an additional $2.4 million annually for the city, officials have estimated.

Martinsburg was one of 16 municipalities statewide selected Oct. 6 by the Home Rule Board to take part in the extended and expanded Home Rule program. Twenty-three cities applied. Charles Town and Ranson also were selected to be part of the program. The Town of Bath applied, but was not selected.

In its application, Martinsburg proposed nine ordinances, most of which dealt with better ways to clean up derelict and dilapidated buildings.

In this initial submission, the city is proposing six ordinances and the two tax ordinances. Two of the original proposals need to be refined further before being submitted later, officials have said.

If approved by the Home Rule Board, the first and second readings of the proposed ordinances will be during the council’s regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 11. The third and final reading – and vote – will be during a special meeting at 5 p.m. Dec. 18.

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