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Consultant gives ideas to improve town's finances

April 28, 2005|by TRISH RUDDER

trishr@herald-mail.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - The discussion was lively Tuesday night among the more than 20 Town of Bath residents and business owners who attended a meeting to discuss a report on the town's operations and financial situation.

Michael Dougherty was hired last year by Citizens National Bank in Berkeley Springs to help the Town of Bath find alternatives to imposing a business and occupation tax on the three banks in town. The town was faced with about a $25,000 shortfall and had to borrow money to pay for fiscal year 2004-05.

In order to add additional revenue to the town's budget, Dougherty, a community resources and economic development extension agent with West Virginia University, said the town needs to seek more grants to pay for improvements. He said the recent $200,000 Streetscape funding the town received will be used for new sidewalks and will benefit both the residents and business owners.

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Two town business people voiced disappointment with Dougherty's report because the figures used were yearly budget estimates and not actual numbers.

Mountain Laurel Gallery owner Chuck Wheeler said "if you don't have the numbers, you can't manage," while business owner Jeanne Mozier suggested the town do an end-of-year budget.

"To make a responsible decision, it needs to rely on the end-of-year statement," Mozier said.

Dougherty said the town will provide a year-end financial statement to residents.

Dougherty said rather than impose a B&O tax on the financial institutions in town, it should impose the 1 percent sales and use tax that was approved by the West Virginia Legislature last year.

It was to go into effect July 1. However, the state has to improve its accounting system before the tax can take effect. Dougherty said that probably would not occur until July 2006.

Dougherty said he estimated about $175,000 in revenues for the town if the 1 percent sales and use tax were imposed.

He also suggested that the town eliminate or reduce other fees the town is imposing, such as the street and police fees, after the 1 percent sales and use tax begins.

Dougherty said the majority of complaints by both residents and business owners were the high cost of the police department, the disrepair of the town's streets, the expense for garbage pickup and the costs to run the cemetery.

He said the town should seek grants for street repair and "should find any available monies to pay for the street work. It should designate increased local revenue for such projects."

During the two-hour meeting, Dougherty said at least six times that better communications from the town's police department were needed.

"The police should communicate more about what they do to protect the town," Dougherty said. "Communication leads to cooperation."

The town garbage rates were increased a few months ago, and many of the businesses are paying substantially higher fees. Dougherty suggested the town privatize the refuse collection if the rates become too high.

"Time will tell if the rates can be sustained," Dougherty said. "If the town can't make the garbage work, they need to get out."

Only 10 percent of West Virginia towns run their cemeteries. Dougherty said the town should not use the general accounting fund for Greenway Cemetery.

"The better solution would be to go into nonprofit," Dougherty said. "Use the Old Dutch and English cemeteries as tourist attractions."

Dougherty said there is a need for better communication between town officials and its residents.

"Many problems can be alleviated through better communications," Dougherty said. "Tonight, we actually had dialogue, and it's good for the community."

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