The Weirton Chamber of Commerce is understandably upset by the concept of a Business and Occupation Tax that would lay much of the closing of a projected $1.6 million budget gap in the city on the backs of small businesses.
The chamber made it clear to Weirton Council from the beginning of budget talks that it would oppose a B&O, and it expressed formal opposition after council announced a budget agreement. The first reading of the budget comes up Monday.
Small businesses have always faced tight margins, made even tighter in an economy with uncertain health care costs and a still sputtering economy. Beyond the idea that small businesses can least afford to foot most of the bill, there is the issue of fairness, one which some members of council fully understand.
Several council members have expressed favoring a sales tax, which distributes the cost of municipal operations across the board. Some council members have expressed the notion that the B&O is a regressive tax and that even the state has given tacit admission to the idea in giving communities alternatives to using the tax.
Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh, who knows something of government and small business alike through his own business, said West Virginia already faces an uphill battle because of a tax structure that makes it hard to compete with surrounding states. That problem is exacerbated by the Northern Panhandle being just a few miles wide with options and opportunities in Ohio and Pennsylvania. We think a B&O surely would put Weirton even further at a disadvantage.
Marsh proposed adjustments to safety fees that haven't been modified in nearly 15 years, and to consider a sales tax. That sounds like an alternative being proposed.
It's not a matter of the opponents simply saying "no" without proposing other possibilities.
It makes little sense to tax business for its mere existence within the city's limits if the goal of the community is growth and economic success.
There is time to stop heading down this path and provide an alternative solution with more than seven weeks remaining before the fiscal year ends.