Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 27, 2013

McDowell Commission divided over proposed tax increase

By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

WELCH — Members of the McDowell County Commission are apparently divided over a proposed 9 percent increase in real estate and personal property taxes.

Commissioner Ray Bailey said Tuesday he is planning to vote against the tax increase, adding that citizens in the county cannot afford the additional financial burden. However, commission president Gordon Lambert said the increase is necessary in order to keep all aspects of the county government funded at their current levels.

The commissioners will hold a public hearing at 4 p.m. Thursday at the commission office in Welch to receive citizen input on the proposed tax increase. The commission is expected to vote on the measure following the public hearing, according to County Assessor Dennis Altizer.

“This is not my proposal; this is totally the county commission’s idea,” Altizer said. “They want to raise taxes on all classes of property including real and personal property taxes by 9 percent to bring in an estimated $328,972 in new taxes. This will impact business, property, automobiles and homes. The money is to be allocated for the regional jail and general commission use.”

Altizer said he is not personally in favor of the proposed increase.

“I am personally opposed to this tax increase,” Altizer said. “With the way the economy is going in the county now, this is not the time to increase taxes. People are paying more for electricity, gas and food. Wages are not going up. The economy of the county has been stagnant for years. This is a tax that will impact all classes of people across the board.”

Bailey, one of the three elected commissioners, said he wants to see increased financial accountability on the commission before voting to raise property taxes.

“I don’t think they (citizens) can afford it,” Bailey said. “Half of our citizens living in the county are on welfare, Social Security or whatever. They are on fixed incomes. Taking money out of their pockets now — they can’t afford it. Appalachian (Power) is requesting another increase, and they are probably going to get it. Everything is increasing. Gas is increasing. And raising (taxes) is not the answer.”

Bailey said there needs to be increased financial accountability among the commissioners and other elected officials before taxes are raised.

However, Lambert said the tax hike is necessary in order to keep all aspects of the county government funded to their current levels.

“Many people don’t like to see taxes going up, but the cost of health insurance, Social Security, retirement and PEIA for the county has gone up,” Lambert said. “This will cover the costs for those expenses. Our county has one of the lowest rates in the state currently. We will only be charging about 10 percent while every other county in the state charges at least 14 percent. We lowered our rates years ago because of the gas well drilling in the country, but now we have to bring up the amount we are collecting. Most of the people won’t even notice this increase.”

Lambert said if the increase is passed it will go into effect on July 1 at the start of the county’s fiscal year.

“I am definitely in favor of this increase,” he said. “This increase came about as something we needed during our budget hearings. Everyone wants more money and this increase is just to cover our budget as it is.”