Council should state purposes for use of additional revenues

A couple of months ago we gave our city’s leaders some credit for not burying their heads in the sand.
Today it looks like we should have recommended that they draw lines in the sand.
We refer to Morgantown City Council plans to enact a 1% municipal sales tax. That will raise the sales tax rate in city limits to 7%.
In early March, our impression of this tax hike was a portion would be dedicated to  BOPARC for capital improvements to parks and recreation facilities.
Another portion of it would be dedicated to paying down police, fire and city employees’ pensions and other post-employment benefits.
Some of the revenues from this tax increase would also be allocated to paying for debt service on bonds or other obligations of our city.
And finally some of it would be used to reinforce the city’s financial stabilization fund.
That made sense and many assumed there might even be some marginal discretion attached to how these revenues were used.
This week, on first reading of this ordinance it turns out that discretion extends to 50% of every dollar generated from this tax. Which means City Council can choose how to use this additional revenue deposited in the city’s general fund as it sees fit. Almost buying a forest for twice its appraised value, anyone?
Yes, everyone has been known to suffer from a lapse in judgment, at times. And we don’t suspect City Council will suffer another lapse that egregious anytime soon.
Yet, the impression is this sales tax hike was sold as being for a dedicated purpose, but looks like now half of these tax collections will be discretionary.
We urge City Council to increase the allocations of how every dollar from this tax will be used and reduce the amount dumped into the general fund.
This sales tax hike is conservatively estimated to generate about $5 million yearly. Not attaching a purpose to $2.5 million of additional revenue is suspect.
It’s not a case of  not just trusting this City Council, either, or future councils.
Unfortunately, public officials of all political stripe have no problem spending tax dollars. Some may feel guilty about it but that does not hinder them.
Most municipalities across West Virginia, large and small, have already imposed a 1% sales tax.
And many don’t dedicate a purpose for these revenues, depositing them into the general fund.
However, that undermines the public’s confidence in our leaders when they use tax dollars at their whim.
Indeed, it does no one any credit.

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