Buckhannon looking into new sales tax

BUCKHANNON — The city of Buckhannon hosted a town hall meeting Tuesday night, where community members had the opportunity to voice input on how to enhance the city’s general fund budget.

At an earlier Buckhannon City Council meeting, Mayor David McCauley had described the general fund budget as being “relatively stagnant” for the past four or five years, which prompted the formation of the Revenue Review Committee.

“We’ve been between $4.2 and $4.5 million and it kind of goes up and down a little bit, but we haven’t see any terrific expansion in the general fund budget for a number of years and our expenses in the general fund budget and the expectations of our community to do projects continues to increase,” he said at a previous meeting.

During the Aug. 16 Buckhannon City Council meeting, the mayor announced the city’s Revenue Review Committee is searching for revenue streams to enhance the city of Buckhannon’s stagnant general fund budget.

Finance director Amby Jenkins presented to council several potential revenue streams, including implementing a 1 percent sales tax. Should the city choose to implement the 1 percent sales tax, Jenkins estimated that the city would collect roughly $1 million per year.

Tuesday’s town hall meeting included reports from each department that is funded through the general fund budget and how an enhanced budget would better serve the community. Those reports came from Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory, Buckhannon Fire Chief JB Kimble, public works director Jerry Arnold, Stockert Youth and Community Center director Debora Brockleman and stormwater director Erasmo Rizo.

During Tuesday’s town hall meeting, several council members — and those who sit on the Revenue Review Committee — expressed their thoughts on implementing a 1 percent sales tax.

As a business owner and community member, CJ Rylands, who sits on both city council and the revenue committee, said his instinct is to say “no” to the 1 percent and to “do more with less like the rest of us.”

“However, I think we already have too many folks in position of power and authority across this country that are making public decisions based on their private interests,” he said. “My role as a fiduciary for the city of Buckhannon is to make decisions that are in the community’s best interests as a whole, not what appeals to me personally.”

Rylands said his recommendation would be to create the 1 percent sales tax.

“Why wait until our backs are against the wall before making tough decisions?” he said. “They’re easy then because you won’t have any other choice. We need to do the things in the present that will (make) us successful five or 10 years from now, and if we do Buckhannon will further differentiate itself from all the other small towns across West Virginia.”

Council and committee member Dave Thomas voiced similar sentiments, saying he was in favor of the 1 percent sales tax.

“I think it provides the opportunity for us to collect money from individuals who use our city amenities here, and I don’t think it’s going to hurt,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to make a decision not to get a pizza within the city limits versus some place outside of the city limits because of the 1 percent sales tax. I’ll make my decision based on the quality of the business.”

Despite roughly 30 community members being in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, only a few signed up to speak, with one speaking against the 1 percent sales tax.

Community member Kevin Hoover first thanked the city for the presentation; however, he said he felt the city would be exceeding its authority by implementing a 1 percent sales tax.

“The government is collecting and collecting and collecting and the poor old taxpayers are getting beat down,” he said. “And at some point you all have to realize that and say enough is enough.”

Hoover said perhaps the city needs to “tighten (its) belt a little bit.”

“The more the government is going to collect, the more the government is going to spend,” he said. “… Basically what you’re doing is strong-arming the public for their money, and I just think we’ve reached a point in time where people have been taxed and taxed and taxed and it’s time for you all to look at some other way to get to where you need to be.”

Hoover also suggested the city look at different options to do business.

“It’s not fair to just keep grabbing the taxpayers by the throat and squeezing more money out of them,” he said.

Community member John Johnson said he thought implementation of the 1 percent sales tax was a good idea.

“We need to make improvements, and we need to maintain what we have,” he said.

Before concluding the public hearing, McCauley said, “We’re going to do the best we can with the resources we have no matter how their raised. You’ve got out assurance on that.”

Should council decide to implement the 1 percent sales tax, McCauley stressed that the process would take approximately 15-20 months before the tax would start being collected.