Home rule in moderation is the best approach

An editorial from The Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — As was readily apparent during Home Rule hearings Monday, there is growing concern about cities having the ability to increase the sales tax.

Several cities seeking Home Rule approval have included a 1 percent increase in sales tax charged to consumers to boost revenue.
In exchange, the cities are proposing lowering some business and occupancy taxes.

Morgantown business owners seemed to have the most organized protest of that city’s plans, with about 12 opponents speaking during the Home Rule Board’s public comment period.

“That additional tax will shove more people out of the city,” Rick Biafora said during Morgantown’s hearing at Bridgeport City Hall.

Biafora is with Metro Property Management, a major retail developer in Morgantown and North Central West Virginia.

“This is a tax tool, and in the hands of the wrong people, it’s very dangerous,” David Biafora, also of Metro Property, said. “There’s plenty of tax dollars they’re not going after. Let cities that need this have it.”

While some critics limited their comments to just the sales tax issue, others were critical of the city’s attempt to earn Home Rule status.

“I shudder to think what will happen if Morgantown gets home rule,” Wings Ole owner Dan Nagowski said.

Clarksburg businessman Frank “Chunki” Angotti spoke against that city’s sale tax plans during its hearing.

“They’re asking my customers to pay an additional 1 percent sales tax on food to pay for debts,” Angotti said.

And Shinnston resident Marion Russell said that town’s citizens “are overtaxed already.”

Officials from the various cities defended the plans, saying the reduction in B&O tax will help to spur more development, while the additional revenues from the consumer tax will be used to pay down pension debt or for special projects.

As we’ve stated before, we support the concept of Home Rule. But much like other theories, some plans don’t always translate well into the real world.

From Monday’s protests, it’s apparent the debate over whether lowering B&O taxes will increase development or harm it is not a clear-cut case.

We caution the Home Rule Board to proceed carefully.

While allowing a city to join the Home Rule program doesn’t automatically put in place its plans, it is the first step. Subsequent hearings would be necessary to implement any of the cities’ Home Rule laws, including the sales tax increase.

But a controversial issue like tax increases could send the Home Rule program into the abyss of negative public perception…

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