Ripley, Ravenswood join Home Rule ranks

Cities plan sales tax, measures to address blight

RIPLEY — The mayors of Ripley and Ravenswood hope to enact 1 percent municipal sales taxes now that the cities are part of the West Virginia Municipal Home Rule program.

The Home Rule board on Wednesday voted to accept Jackson County’s largest municipalities into the program, along with Barboursville and Wardensville.

Adding the sales tax is just part of what the cities hope to do with the ability to pass ordinances beyond the scope of what is allowed by state code.

“It’s going to create a lot of opportunities,” Ripley Mayor Carolyn Rader said.

In March, the West Virginia Legislature voted to make permanent the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program established in 2007. Parkersburg, Vienna and Spencer all participate in the program.

“We’ve basically been waiting to do this, I’d say, two-and-a-half years,” Ravenswood Mayor Josh Miller said. “We’re very thankful that they’re allowing us to meet unique needs.”

Perhaps the best-known aspect of the Home Rule program is the ability for participating cities to adopt a municipal sales tax of up to a penny on the dollar.

Outside the program, cities can assess a sales tax or business and occupation taxes, but not both. In order to adopt a sales tax, the municipality must reduce B&O rates.

Ripley’s proposal calls for the elimination of the 0.3 percent B&O tax on amusements and the 0.18 percent rate on manufacturing, said Doug Skeen, project planner for the city. Because the current B&O tax on retail is 0.3 percent, below the maximum level of 0.5 percent, Skeen said they plan to leave that rate in place.

The additional revenue from the sales tax will also allow city officials to reduce police, fire and street fees, he said.

“We’re eliminating $7 (a month) in municipal fees,” Skeen said.

In addition to making up the revenue lost from those reductions, Skeen said the money from the sales tax is expected to go toward parks and recreation and fairs and festivals, among other uses.

“We have a need for storm drain improvements, beautification and signage, but also sidewalks,” both repair and construction, he said.

Although the planned ordinances were included in the cities’ applications, they must still be approved by each City Council.

Miller said the sales tax will allow Ravenswood to increase revenue without placing the burden solely on the citizens.

Corresponding B&O reductions will include the elimination of the 0.18 and 0.125 percent rates on manufacturing and wholesalers, respectively, as well as reducing the retail and restaurant rate from 0.3 to 0.2 and service and other businesses from 0.5 to 0.4, he said.

Reducing city fees like Ripley proposed was not spelled out in Ravenswood’s application, but Miller said it will be examined as well.

“I do think that’s a smart move,” he said.

“Whatever we eliminate, we’re going to plug (in) some revenue from whatever comes in from the municipal sales tax,” Miller said. “We (also) want to address special projects; we want to start paving more streets.”

The soonest either city could begin collecting a municipal sales tax is July 1, 2020, but other proposals could be enacted before that.

Both mayors said they want to grant code enforcement personnel the ability to issue on-the-spot citations, rather than go through a process that can take several months.

As it stands, Miller said, a code officer may approach a property with high grass and ask if the owner plans to mow it soon. If they do not comply, the city will send a letter giving them 10 days to address the matter. If they do not, they can be summonsed to Municipal Court, which only convenes once a month.

“It can take six to eight months … to get to the point that anything’s resolved,” he said.

In addition to the faster citations, Skeen said Ripley officials hope to establish a registry requiring lenders to notify the city of the new owner of foreclosed property.

“That way, we can find out who is responsible for the upkeep of that property,” he said.

Another proposal would shorten the amount of time it takes to act on uninhabitable properties, Skeen said. Under state code, it can take 28 months until appeals are exhausted. Skeen would like to see that timeline reduced to a year.

Miller said Ravenswood’s application proposed allowing the city to establish its own criteria for membership on state-mandated boards, such as planning, zoning and recreation committees. State officials did not dismiss it outright, but requested more information before approving it, he said.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.