MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom wants to follow the money.
“We know in 2013 there’s $500,000 missing,” Bloom said Wednesday on WAJR’s Morgantown AM. “We can prove that.”
Follow it, perhaps, and find out where that missing money — believed to be revenues from wine and liquor taxes — disappeared. Bloom said it should have been appropriated to Monongalia County and its municipalities in 2013.
“The $500,000 we know was lost from the county,” Bloom said. “The question is, some of it may need to go to Westover, Morgantown. We’re happy with that.”
But right now, Bloom said Commissioners aren’t really happy with anything relating to the State Tax Office. For months, Bloom and other County Commissioners have attempted to figure out how Monongalia County could fail to receive so much as a single penny in wine and liquor tax — during a football season, no less.
“When we provided this (info) to them they said, ‘too bad, we don’t care,‘” Bloom said.
Bloom and fellow County Commissioners Ed Hawkins and Sean Sikora lobbied their local representation in the House of Delegates to sponsor House Bill 2350, which would more clearly define how taxes from wine and liquor would be remitted to the County. Democrat Rodney Pyles is the lead sponsor, and he was joined by Republicans Joe Statler and Cindy Frich. The bill, if passed, would clear up something that Bloom said the West Virginia State Supreme Court had already ruled on — whether or not municipalities were entitled to tax revenues collected outside of the city limits.
“It’s a very simple solution,” he said. “If you sell the alcohol in the city, the city gets it. If you sell the alcohol in the county, the county gets it. It resolves the issue.”
That bill stalled out early though, and Bloom said legislators in Charleston couldn’t figure out why Commissioners had chosen to lobby them rather than the Tax Office.
“We suddenly started getting questions from, first the legislators, who said, ‘Why don’t you just go to the Tax Office and get the information?'” Bloom said.
He said Commissioners tried that, but were rebuked by the State Tax Office, claiming Commission didn’t have the right to review taxes from individual businesses in Monongalia County.
“And we said (to legislators), ‘We can’t, because they won’t let us,'” Bloom said. “So the Tax Office is now trying to block this bill so they don’t give out the information. It’s almost surreal.”
But Bloom said that’s not what Commissioners wanted; rather, they were hoping to know the total amount of dollars the county should have received during the quarter where they didn’t earn a single dollar. Five percent of the wine and liquor taxes from businesses more than one mile outside the city limits of a municipality are required to go the county under current law — though even now Bloom contests that is unconstitutional.
Bloom believed, initially, there had been an oversight and the tax dollars had simply gone to the wrong place. But since 2013, revenues from the tax — five percent of which is supposed to go to the county — have declined by around 80 percent. As they have for months, Commissioners are still questioning where that money is going.
“Why is the State Tax Office and the ABC not wanting us to get this information?” Bloom said. “The question may be, they know where the money is, and this is at the same time when the state was in financial difficulty.”
And, at this point, he said Commissioners were fed up. At one point, they even suggested that — if an error was found — they wouldn’t ask for the money back. But, now, he doesn’t think there was an error.
“We’re wondering now why they don’t want that unless there is something else they are hiding,” he said. “I’ll be very honest — they misappropriated the funds.”
“That’s very clear, and the question is whether it was done purposely or was it done to steal the money. I don’t mind saying that, because I can’t answer those questions. Tell us what happened, and then we can resolve the issue.”