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Martinsburg City Council votes against maximum levy rate adjustment

March 21, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Martinsburg City Council Monday voted 4-0 against a maximum levy rate adjustment that would have increased revenue by 12 percent after hearing several residents speak out against any increase in their tax bills.

Council members Betty Gunnoe, Gregg Wachtel and Richard Yauger were absent.

The city council, which is scheduled is approve a spending plan of more than $29 million for the 2011-12 fiscal year in a special meeting Thursday, is expected to adjust the levy rate to generate 3 percent more in tax revenue.

Stephanie Robinson, a retiree who lives on East John Street, lamented any increase in taxes because of increases in the cost of food and other everyday living expenses.

“It’s too much for us to bear,” Robinson said.

Speaking as a downtown business owner, Elaine Mauck said the impact of a tax increase on commercial property is significant, given the economy.

“Things are not looking good for us at all,” said Mauck, who also serves on the Berkeley County Council.

Donna and William R. Jones of West Virginia Avenue wanted to know whether the additional taxes would be used to address stormwater problems in their neighborhood. They noted a dip in the road near their home that has caused problems and a persistent sewage-like smell.

“I can’t even pay my water bill online,” said William Jones, adding that he wanted to see some improvements with the tax increase.

Berkeley Glass owner Douglas Stein said he appreciated the council’s decision to back away from seeking a maximum levy rate adjustment, but still felt the city could cut another 1 percent or 2 percent from the budget and not hurt the operation of the city.

Stein said he had never complained about taxes until this year and suggested the city’s health plan for its employees could be adjusted just like businesses have had to tighten their benefit packages.

Stein said his business revenues have been off by one-third for two years in a row, and he laid off 10 people as part of “Draconian” steps to contain costs and stay afloat. Stein also noted he had to absorb a 36 percent increase in the city’s fire fee last year.

Business owner Brenda Casabona said she would like to hire additional help, but is uncertain because of the economy and potential for higher taxes since her property assessment hasn’t decreased.

She encouraged the city to look creatively at ways to deliver services at lower costs that do not increase taxes.

An adjustment of the city’s levy rate to generate 3 percent more revenue would mean that the levy rate for the owner of Class II real estate worth $200,000 could pay an additional $6.96 per year, according to figures compiled by City Finance Director Mark B. Spickler.

Class IV business property owners using the same property and assessed values would pay an additional $13.92 per year.

Although the decline in business and occupation-tax revenue appears to be leveling off, city officials have said costs have increased for health insurance, the public employees retirement system, matching grant obligations for additional firefighters and other expenses.

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