Clarksburg Mayor David Kates is planning to follow the example of other mayors across the country by acting as a "salesman" to promote annexation to businesses that are close to, but outside of, the city.
"I'm waiting for some guidelines from council," Kates said. "During a Municipal League (of West Virginia) meeting, I attended a workshop on annexation and learned a lot of leading mayors have made that approach to let people know the positive benefits of annexation and the positive things their businesses can do for the city."
Kates added he likes the idea of a "personal touch" because he thinks the city has been too heavy-handed in trying to urge businesses to accept annexation in the past.
"I'm trying to get a listing of good, positive reasons. You can't just tell them they'll have police and fire protection," he said. "I'll probably visit businesses in Rosebud and others on the city line who have never been approached, or were approached in the wrong way."
Selling points on the list will likely include code enforcement, zoning, lighting, and economic development resources, as well as police and fire protection within a concentrated area, said Councilman Jim Hunt.
"Some would say zoning is a minus, but if you put a factory in an industrial zone, you don't have to worry about somebody opening a subdivision next to you," Hunt said. "If you're a resident, you'll have some assurance someone won't open up a beer joint next to you."
Also, Hunt added there are some less tangible benefits, such as being located in a place with name recognition and a concentrated cluster of potential customers. However, he also said some businesses see municipal Business and Occupation taxes as a large negative point because of their regressive nature.
"It's a very regressive tax because it's levied on gross sales instead of profit, so a business that sells large ticket items like cars will have to pay a lot even though they might be struggling," Hunt said.
"A lot of car dealers have gone to the outskirts because they need the population but can't afford to pay a regressive B&O tax."
Hunt said the state government changed its business taxes from being levied on gross sales to being levied on corporate profit, but did not grant municipal governments the authority to do the same. While city governments in many surrounding states have the right to automatically annex where they provide municipal water and sewer, cities in West Virginia cannot do that.
"You have to analyze the costs and benefits and see if it's in the businesses' best interest," Hunt said. "You also have to see if it's in the city's best interest to extend the infrastructure. Often it is. If we run sewer and water out to a Wal-Mart, they get a brand new line and we get the revenue to replace a 100-year-old-line beneath Main Street."
While cities usually target business areas for annexation because there is no immediate financial benefit to absorbing residential subdivisions, Hunt believes that is a flawed strategy because many businesses look for population.
"I'd gladly approach them too," Kates said of residential areas. "But you have to be careful because the city border is so ragged. One side of the street may be Clarksburg and the other side might be something else."
Staff writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.