Rally at Huntington City Hall Planned as Occupation Tax Challenge Filed in Charleston

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Middletown AK Steel Demolition
Middletown AK Steel Demolition

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – A unique assortment of entities have come together for one thing --- a challenge to the City of Huntington’s proposed occupation tax, explained John O’Connor, vice president of administration at . Steel of West Virginia. The allies include the Cabell County Commission, SEIU District 1199, General Teamsters Local 505 , and an individual (Bob Bailey).

We have also had a number of organizations make proclamations in support of the lawsuit, including the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce; the Marshall University Classified Staff Council which represents over 600 employees at Marshall University; and the Mountwest Community & Technical College Classified Staff Council which represents over forty Mountwest Community & Technical College Classified employees,” O’Connor added.

From a business stand point, Steel of WV would save about $40,000 a year on its business and occupation taxes under the tax reform plan. But, the company does not concur with exchanging business tax liabilities on to the backs of working class individuals. His example, a worker paying the yearly $156 user fee and making $50,000 a year will see their tax zoom to $500.

By contrast, the administration and council maintains that it will encourage entrepreneurship, refers it as an investment in the city, and will bring jobs to the city.

The lawsuit challenging the tax will be filed in Kanawha County by Jay Arceneaux of Lewis, Glasser, Casey & Rollins, PLLC. who advised that since the Home Rule Authority meets in Charleston, Kanawha County becomes the proper venue. (Editor’s Note: Logically, no matter where filed, the WV Supreme Court will likely make the final decision.)

Although the Wolfe Administration points to Ashland as a successful city with an occupation tax, O’Connor points to Middletown , Ohio, as the opposite. A K Steel plant and its employees moved to West Chester Township. Using the words of Middletown city manager, Bill Becker, from a Middletown Journal interview, “there are no income taxes and there are sites ready to develop.”

O’Connor agrees as Marshall University President Dr. Stephen Kopp previously has warned that in every other city new business develops on the perimeter of the city limits to escape the tax.

SHOUT ( Stop Huntington’s Unconstitutional Occupational Tax) will rally at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon on the front steps of Huntington City Hall. The gathering will be lead by SEIU’s Joyce Gibson.

BARELY PASSED

The steel executive has stressed that the occupation tax did not pass either council or the home rule board unanimously. He’s spoken to board members who fear that this (his words) “income tax” could derail all the positives accomplished in the pilot program.

O’Connor explained that the law violates the state’s constitution deeming taxation equality. As an example, “neighbors next door to each other” one working at HIMG and another within the city. one pays the tax and receives the same city services and the other receives the same services but does not pay. “That does not seem fair.”

Although MU employees and those working in Cabell County but working inside the city limits of Huntington, WV have vocalized their opposition to having the tax withheld, O’Connor still asked, how do city residents feel. Only a few have on record favored or opposed the tax.

Dueling expert attorneys have opined on the constitutionality of the tax under WV law. They reach opposite conclusions. Occupation and/or city income taxes have been upheld in other states, but the ruling must be determined based on the Mountain State Constitution.

O’Connor pointed out that the Chamber of Commerce opposes the tax. No minds have been changed on the occupation tax following the city’s pre-council meeting presentation demonstrating its adoption of many tenants in the MU study for city efficiency, the Steel of WV executive told HNN.

Freedom of assembly is a right as precious as voting. You can voice your opinion Wednesday afternoon either by standing in front of City Hall or going about business and life as usual.

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