Kanawha County will lose over half its revenue gained from personal property taxes if a Senate proposal to eliminate taxes on manufacturing equipment goes into effect, county officials said last week.
According to the Kanawha Assessor’s Office, $22.7 million of the county’s $44 million of property tax revenue would be axed; municipalities in the county would lose almost $9.5 million combined.
“If passed, this legislation would gut law enforcement, fire service, ambulance transports and the KRT bus service,” Commission President Kent Carper said. “Likewise, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Circuit Clerk’s Office, the county clerk and county parks and recreation would all suffer irreparable harm.”
The joint resolution for a constitutional amendment (SJR 9) could eliminate $2.1 million in funding for all outside county resources, like the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, Kanawha Valley Senior Services and the Humane Society.
While the legislation still has a long climb — the resolution requires two-thirds passage votes in both the Senate and the House of Delegates for adoption, then the measure would be placed on the November ballot for voters to approve or reject — county officials are sounding the alarm.
“If [it passes],” Kanawha Sheriff Mike Rutherford said Thursday, “it will absolutely devastate counties, and law enforcement in the counties will almost not exist. About the only thing we’ll be able to do is maybe take care of the court system, and that’s about it.”
Carper said the proposal “would gut the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department,” which answers about 95 percent of 911 calls in the county.
The Assessor’s Office provided how much revenue each county municipality stands to lose:
- Charleston: $4,128,186.62
- South Charleston: $3,297,829.58
- Dunbar: $596,734.61
- St. Albans: $513,131.32
- Nitro: $399,586.62
- Belle: $202,868.63
- Marmet: $105,191.83
- Clendenin: $59,878.68
- Cedar Grove: $35,102.81
- Glasgow: $23,109.01
- Chesapeake: $22,886.27
- East Bank: $17,649.98
- Montgomery: $12,630.99
- Pratt: $11,488.54
- Handley: $3,522.04
Legislators argue that passage of a companion bill introduced last week, which calls for sharp tax increases on tobacco and vaping products and a 0.5 percent increase on the consumer sales tax, would help recoup some of those losses.
That bill would also create a special revenue account to fund projected losses, but Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, said he’s run the numbers, and that fund could run dry by 2032.
Kanawha Commissioner Ben Salango, who’s seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in the May primary, said the move to cut the tax is purely political.
“They have no idea how they’re going to come up with the money. It’s a gimmick,” Salango said. “I’ve asked if they’re going to be bold enough to vote in favor, they should be bold enough to come down and sign the layoff notices.”
Other Kanawha officials also spoke at Thursday’s commission meeting about the effects phasing out property taxes could have on the county.
“I would say that if taxing changes,” Kanawha Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Miller said, “it’ll do a good deal to cut the jail bill, because we won’t be prosecuting anybody. So there’s a little bit of positive there.”
“We all are taking SJR 9 very seriously. We’ve all emailed our senators ... to let them know how devastating it would be to the county and to our budgets and the services that we would be able to provide,” Kanawha Circuit Clerk Cathy Gatson said.
If the Legislature approves the proposed amendment, Carper said it could be a tough sell to get voters against it because of the personal property tax cuts on automobiles.
“Why would you vote to pay taxes on your truck when we’re giving it to you for free?” Carper said.
But Carper said with the consumer sales tax rate being raised to 6.5 percent, the money saved from not paying taxes on automobiles — and the money spent on a higher consumer sales tax — would be a wash.
“The supposed selling point — the promise to remove the tax on automobiles — is hitched to a sales tax increase on everyday purchases, which means all West Virginians will pay more in taxes,” he said.
The Senate is set to vote on the resolution Monday.