Clarksburg officials are keenly watching a legal case in Beckley concerning how a bank pays Business and Occupation taxes.
Recently, City National Bank, based in Charleston, filed a lawsuit against Beckley challenging B&O tax collection actions by the city. The suit challenged an administrative decision by the city's recorder/treasurer regarding an assessment of the tax. Charlie Lorensen, a Beckley attorney representing the city, declined to comment specifically about the collection action.
Clarksburg Vice Mayor Kathryn Folio has said the litigation is because City National Bank has refused to pay B&O taxes in every city where there is a branch.
Clarksburg City Attorney Greg Morgan, City Manager Tom Vidovich and Finance Director Frank Ferrari attended a meeting two weeks ago in Charleston with Lorensen and other city officials, Folio said.
The bank's argument against the tax is that financial transactions actually are completed at the corporate offices, not the local branches, Folio said. City National Bank has 59 branches in West Virginia and Ohio.
Jack Cipoletti, marketing director for City National Bank, said he was unaware of any company practice against paying B&O taxes. In a faxed response, Cipoletti said the bank's accounting firm requested and received a ruling from the state tax commissioner in the mid-1990s concerning the B&O tax.
The ruling outlined how the bank should pay the tax. Since that time, the bank has "filed all city B&O tax returns in the state in the exact manner as directed."
Cipoletti did not say specifically how the taxes are paid.
No information was available from the state Division of Tax and Revenue about the decision.
Paul Arbogast, managing partner of Ernst & Young in Charleston, said he could not comment about any client. Ernst & Young was the firm that requested the ruling from the state tax commissioner about how the bank should pay the taxes.
"My position is not to comment on cases in the court system, so I don't feel comfortable talking about the specifics of this," said Gordon Lane, an attorney representing City National Bank. "I think ultimately the court will have to make a decision. Both the bank and the cities want this to be resolved."
Morgan also said he could not comment on the case. But he did say ramifications of any court decision could be felt in Clarksburg.
State Sen. Joe Minard, D-Harrison, is the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Minard said he hopes any possible dispute is settled quickly. Minard also said he believes banks have an obligation to the cities they serve.
"(Banks) should contribute to the economic well-being by paying their taxes like the rest of us," he said. "I don't care where their home office is. They're still serving the local economies."
No hearing date has been set for the case in Raleigh County Circuit Court, Lorensen said.
Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.