by Shawn Gainer
CLARKSBURG -- While city officials tout efforts to revitalize downtown Clarksburg, some business and property owners say it is not always easy to be optimistic about their prospects.
Main Street business operators are burdened with taxes and fees, and parking restrictions discourage both customers and employees, said Claudine Cross, owner of The Ordinary.
"You have such total harassment on this parking situation. You're only allowed to park for two hours, whether you've put money in the meter or not," Cross said.
While city officials have stated they want to prevent employees of downtown businesses from taking parking spaces that might otherwise be used by customers, Cross believes that policy is self-destructive because people who work downtown are the main patrons of downtown businesses.
"I would like to see a count of how many people work downtown," she said. "Employees are the only thing that keeps the businesses going. They have so many things going at us. Taxes and restrictions hit us hard."
In a Nov. 2. meeting of City Council, Councilman Jim Hunt suggested examining the parking issue, citing losses of downtown businesses. Several other council members supported the idea.
Bernard Folio, a downtown property owner, said Clarksburg's taxes and fees are hurtful to businesses.
"Every tax you pay in Clarksburg is less in Bridgeport, Fairmont and Morgantown," Folio said.
According to information provided by the city Finance Department, rates for all categories of Business and Occupation taxes except manufacturing and retail sales were established at the maximum rate allowed by state law in 1971. In 1995, the retail sales tax rate was increased from 5 cents per $100 to 50 cents per $100 and the manufacturing tax rate was increased from 16 cents per $100 to 30 cents per $100, bringing both to the allowable maximum.
City Manager Tom Vidovich said most cities in the state have their B&O taxes set at the maximum because they have few options for funding operating expenses.
According to the city Finance Department, Clarksburg has an annual residential fee of $60 per year for one or two units, a non-residential fee of 4.5 cents per square foot, as well as a fire service fee that is assessed per square foot. In comparison: Martinsburg's residential fee is $55 per unit, Bluefield's is assessed by square footage and Wheeling charges $75 for unit owners and $25 for tenants. Parkersburg has a residential fee of 4.5 cents per square foot and a police service fee of $48 for residential and $96 for non-residential.
Folio believes city government has never been responsive to business owners' concerns, unless an owner is a friend of or contributor to an elected official.
"We've given them all kinds of ideas. We've suggested having triangle parking on one side of the street to slow traffic in downtown. Business owners don't need fast traffic," Folio said. "But they never have listened to us."
Cross also said she feels local government has more often been part of the problem than the solution.
"The politicians are just too interested in taking care of themselves," she said.
Cross also believes business owners need to make a greater effort to work together and help themselves.
"We have a Main Street Association but only a few of us show up for meetings. Everyone has to participate or it doesn't work," she said.
An effort to get city government and businesses working together to revitalize downtown has apparently fizzled out after a meeting this summer, Cross added. While Cross hopes the Main Street streetscape project will improve the downtown business climate, she wants to keep her hopes modest.
"I hope they have a plan in place," she said. "There doesn't seem to be a concrete plan out there."
Staff writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.