The Times West Virginian

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February 17, 2013

All involved must work out messy situation White Hall faces

Each month, residents in White Hall pay a $35 flat rate that is distributed among fire protection ($33), police protection ($1) and the construction of a public safety building ($1). Commercial or non-residential customers pay a rate of 3.5 cents per square foot.

That could change if White Hall officials get their way.

They’ve proposed a new ordinance that would require residential customers to still pay the $35 flat rate, but commercial customers to pay 35 cents per square foot. It also would mean more money for a new public safety build­ing for White Hall in addition to the implementation of a fire and police fee.

There are pros and cons to the issue.

For example, money raised by the proposed increase would help cover the cost of a fire truck for the town, which officials say could cut down on homeowners’ insurance rates. Any proposal that could help people save a few extra dollars, especially in an economy that continues to struggle, is worth examining.

Officials say having a public safety building is the town’s top priority in its strategic plan, a proposal approved by unanimous vote. We understand that when you add the number of residents — fewer than 650 residents as of the 2010 U.S. Census — and the amount of workers, shoppers and commuters who are coming through the town on a daily basis, public safety is important. The town’s police officers are dealing with a startling number of accidents due to the increase in traffic flow in the town, as well as crime because of the proximity to the interstate and the volume of businesses.

But that brings up perhaps the most crucial component of the proposed increase. White Hall is establishing itself as a major retail hub in the region — part of the reason there is such an increase in traffic — and this fee would hit businesses in particular hard. Very hard.

The original proposal was for commercial customers to pay 35 cents per square foot a year instead of the 3.5 cents they pay now for the municipal fee. That means a business owner who paid $2,500 last year would have to pay $25,000 a year after the ordinance is approved.

And since residents would still have to pay a $35 flat rate each year — no change from the original ordinance — let’s just call this proposal what it is: a back-door approach to establishing a B&O tax for the Town of White Hall.

Just last week, Mayor Jesse Corley acknowledged that the town is expanding, adding that expenses come with expansion. This fee would likely put a stop to that expansion, and some people have even voiced concern that it will cause current businesses to close their doors.

Plus, one of the reasons White Hall even exists is because residents wanted to prevent the area from being annexed by the City of Fairmont so that businesses wouldn’t have to pay B&O taxes.

It’s a messy situation, and one that has the potential to get even messier if it’s not handled properly.

A committee of town officials, residents and business owners has been established to come up with a compromise on the proposed increases, and different ideas have been suggested. Following a meeting last week, officials agree they have plenty to consider.

“We’re going to work something out,” Corley said. “With everybody involved, that’s what it’s going to take.”

More meetings regarding the proposed ordinance are planned, and we agree that everyone needs to be involved. There are still plenty of questions to be answered, and the solution must be one that moves the town in the right direction.

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