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Bruceton Mills Council considers Business & Occupation tax

“We, as business owners, do not know anything about this tax,” Country Petals and Floral owner Sue Wolfe said. “We haven’t heard much about it. No council members or the mayor have asked us what we thought, what it would be used for or how much.”

During the May 5 council meeting, members said they needed additional revenue to pay for sidewalk repairs and other maintenance projects. They directed Bruceton Mills town lawyer Charles Pinkerton to learn more about a potential business & occupation, or B&O tax, and report back to council at the next meeting, scheduled for this Tuesday, June 2.

Wolfe has been conducting business in Bruceton Mills for 18 years, and acknowledges she may have close shop if a B&O tax is enacted.

“I am in business because I love this town, and this is not a high money-making business or area,” Wolfe said. “A tax like this could result in my permanent closing.”

According to the West Virginia Commerce Department website, a B&O tax is a major source of revenue for most West Virginia cities and is imposed for the privilege of engaging in business activities.

A B&O tax is generally determined as a percentage of gross receipts and allows no deductions for losses to the business. Different tax rates may be imposed for different types of business activities, and rates may vary from city to city.

Clear Mountain Bank has its main office in Bruceton Mills on Morgantown Street. Bank President and CEO Brian F. Thomas said he also has not heard from anyone on council about a potential B&O tax.

“We hope the town reaches out to local businesses that would be impacted prior to considering implementation of a new tax,” Thomas said. “I believe it is very important for the town to communicate plans and to ask for feedback before taking any action. It would be a mistake to add a new tax without first communicating with the businesses that will be affected.”

Liberty Starr Shafer, who owns Mill Creek Ice Cream Shop on Morgantown Street, said she’s very concerned not only about her business, but about the well-being of the small, North Preston County town.

“I am very worried about the potential risk to the community if council goes ahead with this,” Shafer said. “Businesses are just starting to come back into Bruceton. We have a pharmacy and a medical clinic now. How is a new tax going to affect those businesses? Will they close?

“It is difficult for our seniors to get around, and it is easier for people to come to town a go to Morgantown or Friendsville for a medical appointment or to pick up a prescription,” Shafer said.

Shafer said she has had to cut her employees’ hours already with the increase in minimum wage.

“Something like this hurts small business,” Shafer said. “I have laid a few workers off and pick up their shifts myself, which leads to hardship for myself.

“I am still paying on this business,” Shafer continued. “I am not making any money, and I am not going to share what my sales are with town officials. None of this makes any sense.”

If the tax is approved and implemented, Bruceton Mills would be the second town in Preston County to have a B&O tax.

The Town of Reedsville passed an ordinance for a B&O tax in 2007. Tax rates are based on business type and receipts. Business categories include everything from natural resources such as gas and oil to tangible goods and rental income.

“The tax is placed into the general fund and is used for anything we need,” Reedsville Mayor James Wagner said. “We have used the money for paving and repairing streets, as well as vehicles and salaries.”

Reedsville has estimated a collection of $105,000 in B&O taxes for the 2015-2016 fiscal year budget.

In comparison, the City of Morgantown has had a B&O tax in place for many years. Collections are estimated to be $10.4 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Town of Bruceton Mills is .06 square miles in area. The business district is highly concentrated in a four- to five-block area bordered by Big Sandy Creek.

According to the town’s website, the next town council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 2, beginning at 7 p.m. in the town hall.

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