In yesterday’s Wheeling Intelligencer, there was an argument made that the city, in order to revitalize the downtown, must be made more attractive. The city has bought buildings on market Street, like Rite Aid. There are now plans to tear down the building after spending $200,000 of tax payer money for the building. The taxpayers will also likely be on the hook for tearing down the building.
So, what must be done with Wheeling? What will it take to revitalize the city core? The city council wants to make the city look less old, make it cleaner, and most of all, get businesses into the elegant, yet empty, downtown buildings.
Of all the ideas floated in the paper, the most important impediment to the city’s fiscal vitality was overlooked: Axing the B&O tax.
For those who are unaware, the B&O (business and occupancy) tax is levied on every business in the city. It is a draconian tax in that it taxes a businesses gross income. It ignores overhead, and even chooses which businesses to tax more than others. In that it is unequitable. Even though the state of WV has too many taxes on business, for the most part, the use of the B&O tax is limited by the state. This has not stopped the cities of WV from continuing its use.
Until the city of Wheeling adopts a more business friendly tax system, businesses will stay away, and the downtown will continue to deteriorate. Over time, then, the city’s reluctance to find another taxation system that is more equitable and less harmful to the cost of doing business, will end up killing the downtown. In other words, there will be no tax to collect because most businesses will either fold or relocate.
Looking at the rates for Wheeling, one can see how much it kills incentives. There really is no incentive for businesses to locate themselves downtown. While there are many reasons for a business to locate (or relocate) to an area, a stable and low rate oif taxation ranks near the top. The disincentives that exist in Wheeling are less onerous in the county; this is why the county will find itself growing more. It is simply a more attractive option fiscally.
Is the city wants to right its own ship, the first step should be to get rid of the B&O and replace it with either nothing, or a stable low and equitable rate.