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Elkins won’t publish delinquent business names

ELKINS, W.Va. — City Council Thursday tabled an ordinance that would allow officials to publish the names of businesses that are delinquent in paying business and occupation taxes.

The ordinance was up for a second and final reading during the 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall.

During the meeting, two individuals spoke regarding the proposed legislation, one in favor and one against. Kathy Vance, a local business owner, said she was in favor of the proposed ordinance.

Earlier this year, Vance said, the city treasurer reported the city was owed an estimated $500,000 in delinquent business and occupation taxes. While Vance realizes that is only an estimate, as the city cannot know the income of delinquent businesses, it is vital that the 39 businesses who owe money pay up.

“These businesses are getting the same protections as those who pay and it’s not fair,” she said.

Priscilla Gay spoke against the proposed ordinance, saying the ordinance amounted to bad tax policy based on her years of experience working with the State of West Virginia Tax Department.

Gray pointed out that confidentiality is one of the foundations of the tax system, and taxpayer information is well-established as confidential information. She said increasing confidentiality increases compliance, while decreasing it decreases compliance.

“I do not expect shaming to result in too many tax payments,” she said.

Additionally, it will cost the city time and money to send letters to those who are delinquent informing them their information is going to be published. She also was concerned the ordinance could place city administrators in an actionable position, since breaking tax confidentiality is illegal.

The Council voted unanimously to table the ordinance and send it back to the rules and ordinance committee for review.

While he voted in favor of tabling the ordinance, Councilman Rhett Dusenbury expressed concern with allowing delinquent taxes to continue going unpaid.

“While I appreciate Miss Gay’s comments, what we’re seeing is maximum confidentiality giving us minimum compliance,” he said.

Dusenbury noted many of the businesses who are delinquent are continuing to ignore certified letters attempting to collect the debt.

“It’s their choice not to accept the letters. They’re just saying, ‘To heck with the rest of you all. You’re the suckers,'” he said. “When people do this, they’re not respecting the community, as far as I’m concerned.”

Councilwoman Linda Vest said she appreciated all of the work the Rules and Ordinances Committee has put into crafting the legislation.

“I appreciate the thought that went into it, but it is something we need to think about some more,” she said.

In other business:

Operations Manager Bob Pingley announced the Elkins Swinging Bridge is no longer safe for pedestrian traffic and will close.

Engineering company Michael Baker International performed a review of the Baxter Street bridge and found it to be unsafe, according to a letter sent to Pingley by Josh Derechin, technical manager. Structurally, the bridge sways and deforms violently under relatively light loads.

“A modern pedestrian bridge would be designed to be fully loaded from start to end with an 85-pound-per-square-foot floor load from pedestrians; this would equate to approximately 40,000 pounds. It is very doubtful that the existing bridge could take a fully loaded condition,” Derechin wrote.

Geometrically, the absolute minimum width for pedestrian bridges is 5 feet from rail to rail, Derechin said. The existing bridge is approximately 3-feet-wide and the chain-link fence railing does not meet the railing strength or geometric requirements, he said.

The 3-foot width creates an unsafe condition when pedestrians are crossing the bridge from opposite directions, Derechin said. The condition of the bridge is very poor, with many rotted timber boards and rusted cables that have significantly less capacity than they were originally designed for.

“We hate to do it. I know it’s an Elkins landmark, but we can’t guarantee peoples safety at this point,” Pingley said.

The city has received a grant for a new pedestrian bridge, but the project is not yet finalized.

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