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Kanawha County Commission issues statement opposing tax constitutional amendment

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The governing body of West Virginia’s largest county has been vocal during recent meetings about its opposition to a proposed amendment to the state Constitution granting the West Virginia Legislature the authority to eliminate taxes on certain items. Its members now want to make sure other municipal leaders — as well as state officials — understand the reason for their disapproval.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper (File)

The Kanawha County Commission issued a formal statement Thursday against the proposed constitutional amendment — known as Amendment 2 — that would allow legislators to reduce the personal property and business inventory taxes. President Kent Carper requested the statement be sent to every municipal body and state lawmaker in West Virginia, in addition to members of West Virginia’s executive branch.

West Virginia voters will consider the proposal during this fall’s election. If approved, the state Legislature would have the power to exempt personal property, business inventory and related equipment from property taxes. State lawmakers have argued that the current tax is regressive and hinders West Virginia’s potential for economic growth.

Carper and other commissioners have raised concerns regarding how the plan could affect local government finances and services like law enforcement and education. The commission released a statement before its Thursday meeting noting the county has paid more than $2.3 million in its jail bill so far this year. Members argued tax changes would put additional financial pressure on ensuring adequate local services.

“When and if this passes, there will be severe cuts to critical local government. That’s just the way it will be,” Carper said during the meeting.

Commissioner Ben Salango warned the county could lose “millions of dollars” and eliminate local positions and services if voters approve the amendment. County officials estimate the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office would be reduced by a third of its current amount if legislators approve exemptions.

“All the deputies who are out in the hall, go pick a third of them and send them home,” he said. “That’s what’s going to happen if Amendment 2 passes.”

“Eventually,” Carper added. “Not the first day, maybe. They’ll string it along a little.”

The state Senate approved a resolution during last month’s special session stating the chamber’s support for reducing the personal property tax. The Senate passed the resolution over Gov. Jim Justice’s plan to reduce personal income taxes.

Lawmakers contend the estimated savings to taxpayers and businesses would be around $500 million, but Commissioner Lance Wheeler said the “tax cuts” would be detrimental to counties.

“This is taking money out of the local governments that best serve you than the state or the federal government,” he said. “This is the essential services that we, as a county commission, provide to the citizens. This is the money that is coming straight out of this office along with all the other offices and the school board.”

The commission’s action happened less than three months before the Nov. 8 election. West Virginia’s early voting period will begin Oct. 26.

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