Mon County Commission reviews wine and liquor tax changes

MORGANTOWN — The Monongalia County Commission is hopeful legislative changes regarding wine and liquor taxes will help clear up irregularities in the amount of quarterly revenue remitted to the county.

State code stipulates 5 percent of the purchase price of retail liquor and wine sales, and wine sales from private clubs, is sent back to the county or municipality where the sale occurred.

The commission started going back and forth with the West Virginia Tax Office in January 2017 in an attempt to understand  inconsistencies in past amounts of wine and liquor taxes coming in.

The most dramatic example is a six-month period from October 2013-March 2014 during which Monongalia County received no funds. The commission estimates the total amount of lost revenue at $500,000.

Multiple attempts by the county to get information from the state, including an August 2017 Freedom of Information Act request seeking a list of relevant businesses operating in the county, with addresses, were denied.

The issue has been complicated by the fact that state code gives wine and liquor taxes to municipalities from businesses located up to one mile outside their boundaries.

But that’s about to change. During the most recent legislative session, Monongalia County-led Senate Bill 275 eliminated the one-mile radius and provided counties standing to request information tied to the collection of the tax.

The provision regarding information requests went into effect in July. The one-mile radius provision takes effect on Jan. 1.

During a recent work session, the commission said it’s ready to renew its efforts.

“One of the questions I have is will there be anything more they’ll need come Jan. 1 to make sure they delineate where each business is and where they’re located. I want to clarify that,” Commission President Tom Bloom said. “Also I want to see, as I’ve stated, going back to 2013-’14 and get all the data from then on just so we can see how they came up with their funding mechanism.”

Commissioner Sean Sikora said the state should be able to explain what impact the changes will have and how the law will be enforced.

“They should have to confirm what their process is. OK, you have this new law in place. Now how are you going to enforce it and how are you going to update your records,” Sikora said. “Are you going to reach out to every business so they can recertify where they’re at. That would probably make the most sense.”

Bloom said he’s been in contact with other counties interested in any progress Monongalia County makes on this issue.

Along with another request of the tax data, the commission suggested a meeting with representatives of the state tax and auditor’s offices.

“It’s frustrating because we’ve tried every avenue that we could,” County Administrator Rennetta McClure said of the county’s interactions with the state tax office. “I would assume we wouldn’t have to provide them a copy of the bill that was passed.”

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