Monongalia County Commission frustrated by ongoing alcohol tax questions

MORGANTOWN — Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom said he was “shocked and angry” to learn representatives of the West Virginia Tax Office had pulled out of a planned Wednesday work session with the commission hours before the meeting was to begin.
The session was in regard to a nearly two-year effort by the commission to address irregularities in past amounts of wine and liquor taxes remitted to the county.
State code stipulates 5 percent of the purchase price of retail liquor and wine sales, and wine sales from private clubs, is sent back to the county or municipality where the sale occurred.
The commission believes it could have been shorted more than $500,000 in lost tax revenue in recent years, with the most dramatic example being a six-month period from October 2013-March 2014 during which Monongalia County received no funds.
The county has tried unsuccessfully since January of 2017 to get answers from state tax officials, who have previously maintained the county did not have standing to request such data.
However, during the most recent legislative session, Monongalia County-led Senate Bill 275 gave counties authority to request information tied to the collection of the tax. The law went into effect in July. The county renewed its requests shortly thereafter.
The bill also eliminated a stipulation in state code that gives wine and liquor taxes to municipalities from businesses located up to one mile outside their boundaries. The commission is interested in learning how the state plans to implement that change and just how many businesses fall within those one-mile zones in Monongalia County.
“We’re finally allowed, since July 1, and they still haven’t given it to us. They haven’t even talked to us,” Bloom said, noting state officials asked to reschedule the meeting for Dec. 12. “You’re talking six months before they’re finally going to show up. That’s not how you do things and I don’t think it says much for the State of West Virginia.”
During its Oct. 31 meeting, the commission noted a certified letter sent to the tax office had yet to be picked up a month after it was sent.
“I’ll say this whole process has really confirmed my personal opinion that the state tax office has some leadership problems and I think they’re creating a serious trust issue with the citizens of Monongalia County. It’s just not acceptable,” Bloom said.
“Hopefully in December, if they show up, I hope they come with a process of how they plan to implement the new law as well as with the information we’ve requested about those taxes from 2013 on.”
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