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Weston B&O tax may be headed to Supreme Court

by James Fisher

STAFF WRITER

A Weston lawyer representing three companies in a lawsuit against the city regarding the Business and Occupation Tax said Tuesday that he is prepared to take the fight all the way to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Monday, Circuit Judge Thomas Keadle rejected a motion filed by attorney W.T. Weber Jr. requesting a new trial or an amendment to the court's previous findings. The motion was filed on behalf of Citizen's Bank, Primary Health Care Associates and Sun Lumber Company.

Weber said he was not surprised by Keadle's ruling Monday and said the motion was routine procedure and a "springboard" to the Supreme Court. In a prior ruling that the motion appealed, Keadle upheld the Weston B&O Tax.

"Once the order denying the motion for a new trial or amending the findings is entered, then we have four months to file an appeal," Weber said. "There's no question we will appeal. We believe that the rates among the various classes are not fair and equitable."

Following Keadle's initial ruling in favor of the tax, Weston City Council at a special meeting March 14 granted a 60-day amnesty period for any business that owes back taxes to the city, said City Clerk Becky Swisher. Businesses have from March 31 until May 31 to pay all owed B&O Taxes back to July 1998.

If all businesses comply, Weston could be receiving a large amount of much-needed money, Swisher said. She estimated that about 50 percent of the city's businesses have been paying their tax, which amounts to about $37,000 per quarter. If the rest of the businesses pay, that could mean more than $200,000 may be flowing into city coffers.

While no formal announcement has been made to businesses about the amnesty period, Swisher said several business owners already have begun making payments.

Although Keadle upheld the constitutionality of the tax, he also granted a stay of execution for paying the tax when he denied the motion for a new trial or judgment amendment, Weber said.

The basis of the original lawsuit is that the way Weston instituted the tax was not fair to everyone, Weber said. While some businesses were taxed at 100 percent of the state maximum, some were only taxed at about 17 percent, he said.

"I want to point out that we do not challenge a city's right to enact a B&O Tax, we challenge the way they did it," he said. "The devil's in the details."

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