New Bath sales tax meets with objections, passes council vote

by Trish Rudder

A June 18 public hearing at the Town of Bath council meeting on a proposed 1% sales tax aired objections from the public, both consumers and business owners.

Most comments were from people who were concerned that the timing for this additional tax was inappropriate since the local citizens are struggling with heightened rates on groceries, gas, utilities, etc.

“I service the locals; not the tourists,” said Lora Sisenstein, co-owner of a local business.

“I don’t think now is the time to do it,” she said.

“There is never a perfect time,” Bath councilman and Ordinance committee chair Greg Schene said.

The council was asked why the 1% sales tax was not put in place 4-5 years ago,

“We should have done this years ago,” Mayor Scott Merki said. He said the town was trying to keep costs low.

Merki said the town is working with a budget of 12 to 14 years ago. He said in particular fuel costs are very high.

“We are all going to have to charge more,” Merki said.

Town Recorder Susan Webster said she is a business person, too.

“We all have to respond to the economy,” Webster noted.

Councilwoman Mary Lynn Hickey said the council has a fiduciary responsibility to the town’s operations.

“Kicking the can down the road is not an option; we have to make tough decisions, but we have a job to do and we are doing it,” she said.

Councilman Dave O’Connell called the move “management by crisis.”

The town has to have a balanced budget. It has a deficit of $175,000 this year, so any additional monies will address that.

“Nothing is being put away for future truck purchases, etc. This is the only way we’re getting through this year,” O’Connell said.

In order bring the $175,000 budget deficit down, he projects the 1% sales tax to bring $60,000 for next year.

“Let’s hope it’s $90,000,” O’Connell said.

“We are very late in introducing this tax,” Schene said. “Paw Paw and Capon Bridge have had this tax since 2014.”

When it was suggested increasing the property tax might be better than the 1% sales tax, Hickey said the town has about 800 residents.

“We don’t have a robust taxing base,” she said.

Many properties in the town are tax-exempt, such as the courthouse, churches, and public buildings like the Morgan County library.

Business owner Trey Johanson suggested communicating what the value is to the town residents would be good messaging.

Schene said the council wants improvements for the town and its residents that will have lasting effects.

“How do we improve the Town of Bath?” he asked.

Business owner Ron Martin said, “I’m more for public safety.”

Martin also suggested the town council members should be paid for their service to the town.

Merki said the town council has taken no salary for about 10 years and people have said on social media that the council takes a salary.

“We take nothing,” he said.

Schene told Martin that his suggestion was “very generous but it’s not going to happen.”

In an email last week, Hickey said there were postings on social media regarding the municipal sales tax that suggested the town should be dissolved.

“The county seat must have its own police and fire departments,” Hickey said in the public hearing.

Per WV Code §8-14-1 and §8-5-1, every municipality has the power and authority to establish a police department and fire department.

Per WV Code  §7-2-3, since the county seat must be in a municipality with its own police and fire departments, and if the Town of Bath charter is abolished, the courthouse would have to relocate to Paw Paw, Hickey said.

During the Bath Town Council meeting, the second reading of Ordinance 2024-05-17 “Municipal Sales and Use Tax” was passed unanimously.

The 1% tax will go into effect during the first quarter of January 2025, Schene said.