County commission considers sales tax

PARKERSBURG — Wood County Commission will be supporting a bill that could be introduced at the West Virginia Legislature that would give counties more local control, including setting a 1 percent sales tax to bring it in line with local municipalities.

Discussions have been occurring between county officials and state officials regarding a proposed bill called the “Local Control and Accountability Act,” Commission President Blair Couch said.

”We are working toward it,” Couch said. ”We are hoping this session they will bring it up.”

Couch believes local legislators will play a key role in it as will the West Virginia Sheriff’s Association and the West Virginia County Commission Association.

”It opens the door for counties to offer the 1 percent sales tax,” Couch said.

In West Virginia, the state sales tax is 6 percent. Williamstown opted to enact a 1 percent municipal sales tax in 2010 rather than a business and occupation tax. In 2015, Parkersburg and Vienna were accepted into the state’s expanded municipal Home Rule program. Both cities sought and were granted approval to implement a 1 percent sales tax the following year in conjunction with reductions to their B&O rates.

Currently, shoppers in all three cities pay a total of 7 percent sales tax on non-exempt purchases.

The county had been looking at the 1 percent sales tax, as local municipalities have, to raise revenue as opposed to raising the county’s levy rate. The tax would only be implemented in parts of the county that did not already have the 7 percent sales tax.

”In talking with the state County Commission Association, we know this will benefit the sheriff’s departments and the counties that choose to get it,” Couch said.

A similar bill was introduced last year but was not taken up by the full Legislature.

Many legislators have been apprehensive about giving counties a 1 percent sales tax as they would view it as a new tax. Couch has made the argument that the county’s three municipalities already have a 7 percent sales tax, one percent on top of the 6 percent the state charges. Commissioners want to bring the rest of the county in line with that so it is 7 percent across the entire county.

Cities with the sales tax in place have been able to spend more on law enforcement, hiring more officers, buying new police cars and paying for other needs.

”They can do a couple of things we would like to do,” Couch said. ”When municipalities hire more police, they tend to arrest more people. That is a good thing, but it falls on our jail bills which the cities have no reason to worry about.”

Local cities were paying an intake fee to help with jail expenses, but county officials said that was stopped.

Officials were told the county’s jail bill dropped to $178,000 for December after over a year of the average being around $225,000 or higher which commissioners attributed to new policies and having the Wood County Holding Center under state control so prisoners could be taken there as opposed to the regional jail in Doddridge County.

Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens told commissioners he wants to hire additional deputies when the county begins its budgeting process soon.

Stephens said he serves on the West Virginia Association of Counties and said there is strong support for Home Rule for counties.

County officials will be meeting with their elected officials in Charleston to see if they can get support for this.

”I know a 1 percent sales tax will allow us to hire more people and allow us to invest in our buildings, vehicles and so on,” Couch said. ”There are a lot of things we can fix.”

This measure has support statewide among many counties, especially along the border.

”Because we have an influx of travelers through the state along Interstate 77 and U.S. 50 that this would be a tax that would catch a lot of out-of-town dollars,” Couch said.

Couch feels this bill could get passed this session.

In other business, the commission hired C. Blaire Hudson as an assistant prosecuting attorney and Kandy Wilson as a legal assistant for Wood County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. They will be sworn in on Monday.