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Mayor proposes increased sales tax

KENNY KEMP | Gazette Charleston Mayor Danny Jones (left) swears in a new crop of Charleston Police Department officers earlier this summer. On Monday, Jones proposed an increase in the city's salex tax, rather than an increase in city fire and refuse fees, to pay for pensions for police officers and other city employees.

Though Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said in May there would be no additional tax or sales tax increase in his current term, Jones proposed Monday night the city double its half-cent sales tax.

Jones was asked during a May meeting of the Rotary Club of Charleston if the city’s current sales tax, used for Civic Center upgrades, would ever be funneled to unfunded pension liability.

Jones told attendees it wouldn’t and joked, “That’ll be in the next half-cent.” Jones later clarified his statement to the Gazette, saying an increase wouldn’t happen before his term is up in 2015.

The mayor last month proposed increasing Charleston’s fire and refuse fees for the same reason, but said Monday night the additional sales tax, which would increase to one percent under the proposal, would take the place of that idea.

“In [raising fees], we go inside people’s homes,” Jones said. “And we go inside a lot of people that are very poor, and they’ll see big increases in their fees. They’ll see big increases in their electric bill.”

But Jones also said raising fire and refuse fees is “justified” as they haven’t been raised in many years.

City Manager David Molgaard told the committee and those present that the increased fees would give the city enough funds to pay for pensions for three years. Money from the increased sales tax would give the city enough reserves through 2027. Charleston currently has a $287 million deficit in police and fire pensions, Molgaard said.

Some members of City Council worried that a higher sales tax would make the city a less desirable place to visit or live.

“Obviously it’d be fun for us to have taxes at 50 percent. We’d have a lot more money, but at some point the train tips over the mountain and, all of a sudden, no one wants to live here, because the taxes are too high,” said Republican Councilman Courtney Persinger, who represents Ward 15.

But Molgaard said many municipalities applying for home rule have proposed one percent sale taxes.

“Sixteen of the new municipalities participating in home rule are asking for a 1-cent sales tax,” Molgaard said.

Two cities are asking for half-cent sales tax, one of which is South Charleston.

“But in their plan, I’m told that they reference the fact that they want to be consistent with their neighbor. So if we raise ours, there’s probably a likelihood to be consistent, they’ll raise theirs as well,” Molgaard said.

Fifty-three municipalities in West Virginia are required by state law to contribute to police and fire pension plans.

The sales tax bill, which would raise the city’s collection to 1 percent upon passage, was referred to the finance committee Monday night.

Fifty percent of the money from the tax would still be used for the Civic Center. The other half would be put into a uniform pension relief fund.

No council members moved to table either bill that addressed the city’s fire and refuse fees.

Also Monday, City Council:

n Approved using $31,000 from the state’s Division of Justice and Community Services to partially fund the salary of the Charleston Police Department’s victims services advocate.

Council also approved $10,000 from the Kanawha County Commission’s Violence Against Women Recovery Grant to pay for a police department domestic violence officer’s overtime.

n Administered $40,000 from the state’s Division of Justice and Community Services for partial salary reimbursement for a prevention resource officer at Stonewall Jackson Middle School and Capital High School.

n Gave $37,054 in grant money to be used for salary reimbursement for Metro Drug Enforcement Network Team officers.

n Approved a bid from West Virginia Paving to purchase asphalt as needed for $72.50 per ton to be used as wearing course material and $69.00 for patching and leveling.

While the city received a lower bid price from American Asphalt of West Virginia, a note in the finance committee meeting minutes stated delivery and fuel costs to pick up the material “offset the difference in prices.”

n Approved the purchase of cement concrete as needed from Essroc Ready Mix in Winfield. Council also approved the purchase of aggregate from Martin Marietta Aggregates.

n Reappointed Paula Butterfield to the city’s Building Commission. Council approved new Building Commission appointees Jack Rossi and Philip Hereford to replace R. Brawley Tracy and Olivia Singleton, respectively.

Council also received new bills that would:

n Allow for delayed demolition of designated historic properties and those in historic districts throughout the city.

n Allow members of the Municipal Planning Commission to attend meetings and vote on items in person, by telephone and video conference.

The bill also clarifies that commission action isn’t official unless approved by a majority of members present. The chairperson may cast a vote in the case of a tie and no commissioner may vote by proxy.

n Create a “no parking anytime tow away” zone on Elmore Avenue between Preston and Claire streets.

n Create a “no parking anytime tow away” zone on Court Street between Lee and Quarrier streets from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

n Allow disabled persons with a Class Y crossbow permit to participate in Charleston’s urban deer hunt.

Staff writer Rachel Molenda

can be reached at, 304-348-5102

or follow @rachelmolenda

on Twitter.

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