Weirton mayor weighs in on B&O, budget debate

WEIRTON – City Council, a specially created citizen budget review committee and city officials have been struggling for months trying to resolve a projected $1.6 million shortfall in the 2015-2016 fiscal year using a variety of combinations of the business and occupation tax, the cable franchise fee, a potential sales tax and adjustments to the municipal service fee and police and fire service fees. The 2014-2015 fiscal year begins July 1.

This week they may be closing in on a solution.

A special City Council meeting has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today in Council Chambers at the Municipal Building, and the only item on the agenda is an ordinance to amend the B and O tax in conjunction with a scenario presented by Ward 6 Councilman David Dalrymple. The ordinance will require two readings to pass.

City Council voted down a plan that contained the B and O option at the May 12 regular meeting, and two more scenarios stalled during Monday’s regular meeting. One was tabled for further consideration, and the other was removed entirely. Neither one of the scenarios presented Monday involved changes to the B and O.

Mayor George J. Kondik had spoken out in opposition of the B and O measures in several previous budget workshops.

“I’ve been against the B and O since 1999,” Kondik said. “Having said that, I also realize that with the decline of property taxes and gaming revenue, something must be done. No matter how council votes, I will pursue the sales tax that is available to us. Hopefully, if that is accomplished within nine months and we see a steady revenue stream, then I will lobby council to eliminate the B and O, if it passes.”

When asked about the timing of the special meeting, Kondik said that Dalrymple, Ward 2 Councilman Chuck Wright and Ward 4 Councilman George Ash Sr., scheduled it.

“We are working promptly because we have to maintain services that we have always provided to the citizens of Weirton,” Kondik said. “We’re short five police officers and we need to buy cruisers. We’re very concerned about improving the security of the city building. We must maintain the level of service that we have always provided and not cut any staff.”

Ronnie Jones, First District representative in the House of Delegates, officially resigned from his post as Ward 1 Councilman at Monday’s meeting. That leaves Ward 1 without representation in City Council’s vote at the special meeting.

“It’s always preferred to have all seven wards represented. But in this scenario, being that it may take weeks before a replacement is found because of the two-week advertising window for applications, I feel council is coming closer and closer to a final decision after months of budget workshops and discussion on this matter,” Kondik said.

According to the city charter, City Council members have six weeks after Jones’ official resignation to appoint a resident of Ward 1 to the position. If they do not fill the position in that time, then a special election will take place.

Robert’s Rules of Order state that public comment does not have to be allowed at special meetings, but Kondik said he will do what he can to give citizens a chance to speak.

“I hope it will be allowed,” he said. “If no one else makes the motion, then I will myself, because this is the biggest and most important topic that I’ve seen in the past 18 years that I’ve been involved in city government. I feel that everyone should have a voice in city government.”

(Dalrymple can be contacted at sdalrymple@heraldstaronline.com)